Feature Friday: Bivins Eyes Big LJ Marks, Fast Dash Times

James Bivins is one of the state's most electrifying athletes.

Whether he's soaring to huge marks in the long jump, burning up the straightaway in the sprints, or excelling on the football field, the two-sport star always seems to be doing something dynamic. 

The 5-8.5, 165-pound Bivins has carved out a remarkable career at Donovan Catholic, which includes three state titles (two in the 55m dash, one in the LJ), and several eye-popping times and sparkling long jump performances.

After Bivins opened his season last weekend with a victory in the long jump and a third-place finish in the 55m at the Hispanic Games at the NY Armory, NJ MileSplit caught up with him for a Q and A.

Bivins talked about his season opening performances, what it's like to compete with a mask, how he got involved in track and field, the big goals he has, his college plans, potentially walking on to play college football, and a whole lot more.

So, sit back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday.  

James Bivins Interview

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NJM: You got your season off to a good start last week with a 6.63 to place third in the 55m, and a 20-10.75 to win the long jump at the Hispanic Games. What are your thoughts on the way you performed?

As my first meet back since March I think the way I performed was okay. I do believe I could have done better in both events but I have been training for a little under a month now for meets.

What was it like having to compete with a mask on? I assume it was the first time you had to wear a mask at a meet? Was it difficult? Do you feel it slowed you down at all or had a negative impact on performances?

Definitely competing with the mask was difficult in the beginning  but after warming up with the mask I got used to it.

This was your first track and field meet since last March. How did it feel to be back out there competing, and what did you miss the most about track and field?

I was really upset with nationals being cancelled last year which would have been my next meet last year, so it felt really good to be competing again. What I miss the most about track and field has to be getting that rush before the race and hearing the audience screaming and cheering.

Let's get into some background. Can you let me know how and when you first got started competing in track and field? What got you interested?

When I first started doing track I was in my 8th grade year in middle school. I got into track because a group of my friends wanted to go out and hopefully get our name on the record books. Also my family were big track runners so I was born into it.

You have shown great versatility on the track and in the field in the sprints, and jumps, but which event is your favorite and why?

That's a very hard question because I love both events equally. I love long jumping cause it feels like you soaring through the sky.  I also love my sprinting events because of the push I get from the other competitors.

When it comes to practice and workouts, what is your schedule like? Do you work on jumping and sprinting  each day or do you have specific drills you do on different days?

Out of season, my workout schedule is mainly lifting heavier and getting stronger. In season I work on being explosive and workout to work on my mechanics.  Usually I will practice on both running and jumping in practice but one event I will do more on that day. For example, on Monday I will work on on my longer sprints like the 300m or 400m, and then I will end that day will springboard for long jump.

Unfortunately, there wasn't an outdoor season last spring because of Covid. How challenging was that and how tough was it mentally to deal with?

The challenges were not that tough physically only because my track coaches still sent out workouts for the team to do just in case the outdoor season started back up. Mentally, I was a little upset because I worked a lot with my coaches and I wanted to see it pay off.

What type of things did you do on your own to stay sharp during the spring/summer? I'm sure you had to come up with some creative ways to do drills etc.?

To stay in shape I did the workouts that my coaches would send and usually if I couldn't get to the track I would go down to park close to me and workout there and run hills, or run on the beach.

Last indoor season was the best of your career so far, highlighted by your PR's of 6.39 in the 55m, and 23-1.5 in the LJ. With those marks, you are the No. 7 returner in the country in the LJ and No. 10 in the nation in the 55 dash.

What are your biggest goals for those events this season?  For those events I would like to be top three in the country. It would mean a lot to see all my hard work pay off after four years of work and to go out of high school on top. Also, one of my biggest goals for outdoors is to break my brother's (Robert Whitfield) Ocean County LJ record (23-8.5 in 2010 for Toms River South). And I would like to come close or break a state record either jumping or running.

What do you consider your greatest strengths as a track and field athlete? What do you think enables you to be as great as you are in the sprints and in the LJ?

As a football player, running track and running I feel like my strength is my explosiveness from my start in sprint and from jumping in long jump.

Obviously, you have great jumping ability. When did you first notice you had a special talent as a jumper?

I realized I had a talent as a jumper when I was in middle school. I used to be able to tap a rim on the basketball hoop, and as a middle schooler close to 5'5-5'6. My track coach saw that and told me I should try long jump and high jump at practice.

When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a big star in this sport?

I realized I could be a big star my sophomore year in high school because that is when I started to get noticed by the media and college coaches.

 What do you think the keys are for you to reach 24 feet in the LJ and beyond and under 6.30 in the dash? Are there any specific techniques that you are working on to help you keep setting new PR's?

I think the keys for jumping 24 in long jumping are my mechanics from my run-up all the way to my landing. Also, to get 6.3 in the 55 I would have to worry about finishing stronger and not letting off the pedal and not to tense up as much. The training I do is keep practicing the right mechanics and repping it out so it becomes almost like muscle memory.

 What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far in track and field and why?

 I would have to say my 23-1.5 because it was the number one jump in the state at the time.

You've been close to winning your first Meet of Champions titles a couple times (third in the 55 last year and third in the 100 in 2019). How motivated are you to win one before you graduate and what would a M of C victory mean to you?

After being so close so many times, I have become really motivated to get a MOC Victory before I graduate. It would mean a lot to me to see all the hard work my team and my coaches did to push me to pay off.

Unfortunately, there won't be any state meets this indoor season because of Covid. So, what type of things do you do to stay focused and motivated on improving?

The thing that keeps me motivated and focused is getting ready to compete at the next level in college.

I know you are committed to Rutgers on a track and field scholarship. Can you talk about what made you choose Rutgers and what other schools made offers to you for track and field?

What made me choose Rutgers was the relationship I had between Coach (Bob) Farrell and myself. He made me feel like he was welcoming me to the track and field family. Some other schools I was talking to were Penn State, Colorado and Monmouth.

Since you are also a big football star, I'm wondering if there are any plans to try to walk-on to the football team at Rutgers? Have the track and field coaches at Rutgers given you the green light to play football?

Football will always be a first love, and if I could walk on that could be amazing. I had a small conversation with Coach Farrell, and we are on the same page about how track is my first priority when it comes to sports because that's what I came to Rutgers to do.

What do you plan to major in? What is your long-term career goal?

I plan on majoring in business and planned to someday own my own real estate business along with other financing businesses.

There are lots of football stars out there that choose not to do another sport while in high school. Instead, they focus on football year-round by lifting ,and doing speed and conditioning drills etc. What made you decide to keep doing both sports, and in what ways do you think competing in track and field helped you with football and how much did playing football help you with track and field.

played both because I feel like in a way football and track can help each other out when competing. When it comes to football, I feel my track background helps me because it helps hit my top speed faster and get to point A to point B faster. When it comes to track, I feel like my legs are stronger and more explosive  because of all the football, lifting, and running with pads on.

What kind of advice would you give to football players in high school about also competing in track and field? What are the advantages to it and in what ways do you feel it will help them?    

The advice I give to other football players that also compete in track and field is to stick with it because it all pays off at the end either with track or football. It will help you get your overall speed up and fix your mechanics when running.

What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?

What I love most about being a track and field athlete is the excitement you get with your team and the adrenaline rush you get when running or jumping. Also seeing all your hard work pay off.