From NCAA Outdoors to Team USA: Five men to watch

Oregon head coach Robert Johnson and UO junior hurdler Devon Allen share a laugh during Tuesday's NCAA press conference in advance of the 2016 NCAA Men's and Women's Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field. (TrackTown USA photo by Josh Phillips)

EUGENE, Ore. – Two years ago, University of Oregon junior Devon Allen, then a freshman, hosted a coming out party on Hayward Field’s west straightaway.

Only three months removed from his collegiate 110-meter hurdles debut at the Oregon Preview, where he failed to break 14 seconds, Allen torched over the hurdles in a meet-record 13.16 seconds to win the NCAA crown and lead the Ducks to their first men’s outdoor team title in 30 years.

This week, Allen will aim to return to the NCAA winner’s circle after missing the 2015 season due to a knee injury suffered in the Rose Bowl. But he also has his eyes set on another prize: a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Oregon junior Devon Allen will compete in the 110m hurdles, 200m and 4x100m relay at the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field. (TrackTown USA photo by Josh Phillips)

Oregon junior Devon Allen will compete in the 110m hurdles, 200m and 4x100m relay at the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field. (TrackTown USA photo by Josh Phillips)

“I’m just excited to see where I’m going to be by the end of the year,” Allen told a TrackTown Tuesday audience in April. “When the (U.S. Olympic) Trials come up, I’ll definitely be ready.”

Allen, who also plays wide receiver for the Ducks, has pressed pause on football to focus on track and field this spring, and it appears to be paying off. Allen’s season-best time of 13.32 seconds, set in Seattle at the Pac-12 Championships four weeks ago, is the fastest in the NCAA this year and the fourth-fastest by an American. It’s also faster than he ran at the Pac-12 meet in 2014 — the year he went on to double as NCAA and U.S. champion.

When the NCAA men’s competition kicks off today, Allen will be only one of the athletes harboring big ambitions for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field, July 1-10, at Hayward Field. Here are four other U.S. Olympic hopefuls to keep an eye on this week, as well as at Hayward Field later this summer.

Izaic Yorks (1500 meters)

In March, University of Washington senior Izaic Yorks faced a bear of a decision: run the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships, where he would have been the top seed, or keep his legs fresh for the distance medley relay and try to anchor the Huskies to a national title.

Yorks chose to chase team glory in the DMR, but in a battle of anchor-leg heavyweights, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, who has won 13 NCAA titles, outkicked him on the final lap and delivered the victory to the Ducks. This week, Yorks will look to capture that elusive NCAA title in the 1,500-meter event, where he enters as the top seed after running 3:37.74 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in May.

Jamiel Trimble (200 meters)

Two weeks ago, Air Force Academy sophomore Jamiel Trimble was ranked 21st on the collegiate 200-meter list, making him a fringe candidate to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Eugene.

But after setting a huge personal best of 20.12 seconds at the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Kansas, Trimble is now a contender to win it all this week — and possibly to make a run at Rio. His time ranks second in the NCAA and third in the U.S., and if he can knock off the NCAA pre-meet favorite, LSU’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, a native of Great Britain, it will provide another confidence boost heading into the Olympic Trials.

Sam Mattis (Discus)

As one of only two Americans with the Olympic “A” standard in the discus, Sam Mattis is an early favorite to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio. But that doesn’t mean the University of Pennsylvania senior will be looking past his competition this week in Eugene.

At the NCAA East Preliminary Round, Mattis finished second behind Akron junior Phillip Jagers, who is one of six athletes to throw beyond the 200-foot mark this season. To fend off those challengers on Friday, Mattis will look to regain the form he showed at the Philadelphia College Classic in March, when he set his personal-best and U.S.-leading mark of 221 feet, 3 inches (67.45m).

Shaq Walker (800 meters)

Before Shaq Walker starts worrying about Boris Berian, Duane Solomon, Nick Symmonds, and America’s other top half-milers, BYU’s 800-meter star must figure out how to beat a Canadian.

Walker’s personal-best time of 1:44.99 currently ranks him second not only in the U.S., but also second in the NCAA, behind Canadian Brandon McBride (1:44.63) of Mississippi State. With less than half a second between their PRs, Friday’s 800-meter final should offer one of the meet’s most exciting match-ups.

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