What Jamal Walton's Homecoming Means for FSU

By Denise Spann, Florida MileSplit Correspondent

In high school there's levels to 400-meter stardom.

Very few high schoolers know what it's like to break the infamous 45 second barrier. In 1982, Darrell Robinson set the ceiling with 44.69 and only two have come close to claiming it -- Justin Robinson and Jamal Walton.

But a year before Justin joined club 44, Walton made history as the second high schooler to ever break 45 seconds -- the first in 35 years.

In 44.99, Walton won his second Pan-American Junior Championship representing the Cayman Islands and qualified for the IAAF World Championships in London.

The historic moment placed him at the peak of his career and with high expectations, Walton took his talents out-of-state to Texas A&M University to begin his new journey in 2018.

Redshirting his first season, Walton debuted with the Aggies in the 2020 and continued to show his 400m dominance with a second-place finish at the SEC Indoor Championships that ranked him top five in the country and No. 7 all-time in program history.

However, the season cancellation and uncertainty of college sports in the fall allowed Walton to evaluate his time at Texas A&M. The redshirt sophomore ultimately decided to part ways with the Aggies and entered the transfer portal in December.

After considering powerhouses like the University of Georgia, Texas and LSU, Walton chose to return to his home state of Florida and joined the men of Florida State on January 6.

Becoming a Seminole is a full circle moment for the Miramar High School alum.

"Growing up FSU was my favorite school to go to," the two-time FHSAA state champion said. "[During the transfer process] they told me to not choose too early, they said weigh your options, while I was like Florida State, Florida State, Florida State. I feel great coming back and now I'm closer to home."

Familiar with Walton from his elite performances in high school, FSU assistant coach Rick Argo never thought he'd get the chance to coach Walton, until he unexpectedly saw his name in the transfer portal.

"When you see a kid like Jamal pop up in the transfer portal, you know it's like, man this is something I kind of dreamed of," Argo explained. "Having an opportunity to coach this kid and knowing his level of talent, I immediately started thinking how I can continue to cultivate that. The opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it and thank God he was willing to give us a chance to see if we can continue to push forward his growth."

Walton owns a resume unlike his peers.

SEC champion, indoor national qualifier, two-time Pan-American Junior champion, IAAF World Championship semi-finalist, IAAF World Youth finalist and IAAF World U20 semi-finalist, among other honors.

With PRs of 10.42 (100m), 20.57 (200m) and 44.99 (400m) the Miramar alum's impact will be immediate for the Seminoles. The sprinter's most recent indoor 400m effort (45.62) would've won the ACC Indoor title and become FSU's No. 1 performance all-time; his outdoor best would rank in the program's top three.  

"When you're trying to put together a team and compete for a national title, you know they can score individual points," Argo said. "As long as you develop them correctly, it's really really hard to not see that person competing for a national title. Jamal, obviously from a talent standpoint is one of those types of athletes. The guy ran 44 seconds in high school.

"Anyone who's known Jamal knows he's been an elite level athlete for quite a long time. To have a guy like him, particularly in the 400m, which is an event we're looking to build on, it's tremendous for our program."

In addition to the Pan-American Junior champion, FSU gained other strong commitments from the transfer portal in American alum Ari Cogdell and Miami Northwestern alum Thomas Burns.

Walton, Cogdell and Burns are not only familiar with each other from competing with and against another in their high school and club circuit days, but Walton and Burns were Aggies together.

And that's not all.

The three will join ACC Indoor 400m runner-up DaeQwan Butler (Piper) and 2019 FHSAA state champion Alex Collier (Orange Park) in the pursuit of the relay title while also creating serious depth in the event.

"The 4x4 is the main event and us together is good chemistry," Walton said. "All chemistry from Florida that comes together is going to be great chemistry...I had more chemistry with the [FSU] teammates along with everyone I know, so I felt I could do better here, rather than over there."

"The reason I didn't go pro is because there were a lot of runners that would go pro and then after that they would fall off," he added. "So, I'm not going to be that type of person to go pro and fall off. I feel I wasn't there yet. A 44.99 isn't going to get me where I want to be."

Currently, over 70 percent of the team's sprinters are from Florida and that's a trend that's going to continue to grow under Argo.

And with Walton a part of the program, it shows future in-state sprint prospects that FSU is a successful option.

"We're doing our best to keep building on what we have and keep it growing for the future," Argo said. "Our goal is always going to be to win a national title. These guys, they came here with that understanding, if that wasn't the case, then they wouldn't be here... but we also understand the amount of work it's going to take for that."

With his talent, international competition experience and seeing so many young athletes forgo their eligibility, one could ask: Why would Walton transfer instead of turning pro?

The answer is rooted in personal growth while silencing haters.

"I had a lot of people doubting that I would go to college because of my grades back in middle school and high school," Walton explained. "In high school I went to four different schools, I had to sit out my freshman year, so I had a lot of doubts about me. People were saying, 'oh he's not going to go to college' yada yada, so I had to prove them wrong [and show] that I could go and succeed."

"The reason I didn't go pro is because there were a lot of runners that would go pro and then after that they would fall off," he added. "So, I'm not going to be that type of person to go pro and fall off. I feel I wasn't there yet. A 44.99 isn't going to get me where I want to be."

For Walton, in order to reach his goal of competing in the Olympics this summer, he's going to use this journey with the Seminoles to lower his marks, raise his level of talent and continue to learn what it takes to be an all-around elite athlete on and off the track.