Jefferson excels in first full season with Iowa track and field

After an accomplished high school career, Khullen Jefferson has already started to find success at the college level with Iowa track and field.


Khullen Jefferson. (Contributed by Hawkeye Athletics)

Lauren Swanson, Sports Reporter

Since he was in high school, Khullen Jefferson has always excelled on the track.

At Thornton Fractional South in Lynwood, Illinois, Jefferson was a seven-time South Suburban Conference individual champion. At one point during Jefferson’s career, Thornton Fractional South won three-straight state titles.

As a junior in high school, Jefferson won the 400-meter sectional title and set school records in 200 and 400-meters with 22.06 and 48.34 times, respectively. During his sophomore year, Jefferson earned All-America honors in the Junior Olympics’ 200-meter with a 21.96 time.

Just as he did in high school, Jefferson has already found success with the University of Iowa’s track and field program.

The now freshman placed seventh in the 400-meter at the 2021 Big Ten Indoor Championships in February with a career-best 47.91 time. Iowa men’s track and field went on to win the event outright for the first time since 1929, scoring a UI-record 119 points. The Hawkeyes’ performance at the Big Ten Championships later helped director of Iowa Track and Field Joey Woody garner Big Ten Men’s Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year and U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Midwest Region Men’s Track and Field Coach of the Year honors.

While Jefferson has achieved quite a bit very quickly in college, the transition from high school to NCAA Division I Track and Field hasn’t been easy for him.

“I feel like the biggest difference between high school track and college track is that everybody around you is basically at the same talent level as you, if not faster,” Jefferson said. “You’re working harder every day. The treatment is better too. The trainers are way better in college than in high school too. At the collegiate-level meets, the competition level is way higher. In high school, you could maybe even skip a day and still win the race, but in college, you have to be in your top shape to at least compete to get the top three.”

Jefferson said that he has also had to adjust his eating habits while in college.

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“You have to eat a lot healthier in college,” Jefferson said. “You’re training every day, six days out to seven days a week, so what you eat is a bigger deal. In high school, you could probably eat unhealthy at lunch, and then go on to practice, but practice for college is more difficult, so you need to eat healthy.”

Throughout his first year at Iowa, Jefferson has relied on his new teammates to help him perform at a high level and improve at both practices and meets.

“I feel like my team, specifically the 400 group, is really supportive,” Jefferson said. “I feel like if we’re not the closest group from the whole team, then we’re definitely close second. Our group hangs out a lot. We are just pretty close guys as a unit.”

Jefferson added that Iowa’s coaching staff has also played a pivotal role in his growth as an athlete, specifically assistant coach Jason Wakenight.

“I feel like [Wakenight] has been supportive the whole time,” Jefferson said. “He understands that this is our first time running since junior year of high school, so we’re probably still trying to get back into running outdoors. With COVID-19 still going around, I just feel like we’re missing some of the things that they got in previous years.”