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Devin Loudermilk's jam-packed path from hooper to high jumper

From tiny Howard, Kansas to the collegiate big time, all while helping others along the way

11 min read
KU junior Devin Loudermilk takes a moment to himself at the recent NCAA West Preliminary meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This week, Loudermilk and nine of his teammates will compete at Outdoor nationals in Eugene, Oregon. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Kansas junior Devin Loudermilk hates being bored.

Good thing he became an elite high jumper and world-class human being then. Those two things keep him plenty busy.

And later this week, he’ll be competing at the NCAA outdoor national meet with his eyes on earning an All-American honor to go with the All-American indoor title he brought home last winter.

There’s so much more to Loudermilk’s story than how or even why he became a high jumper.

From his humble beginnings in his older brother’s shadow while growing up in tiny Howard, Kansas, to his seven-days-a-week job as an in-home caregiver and a childhood full of games and competition, Loudermilk is currently living the life that seemed destined for him.

And for every bar he clears and successful jump he makes, it’s those hours as a caregiver that remind him just how lucky he is to do what he does.

Life with Lorraine

Loudermilk first met Lorraine on a Zoom call after answering an ad she had placed for an in-home caregiver.

Majoring in psychology, with a minor in applied behavioral science, Loudermilk has always been interested in helping others. But last August he also found he needed a job.

It worked out that the two things came together brilliantly when the Lawrence woman in her 50s who is living with cerebral palsy instantly hired him after that Zoom interview. A week later, Loudermilk was in her home helping however he could.

This wasn’t just some kind of convenient part-time job, though. For much of the past nine months, Loudermilk has been at Lorraine’s house eight hours a day — four in the morning and four more at night — helping her do everything from get out of and into bed, cook, clean and laugh and smile.

“Being there with her kind of puts in perspective how blessed I am to be able to move my body myself,” Loudermilk told R1S1 Sports during a recent sit-down interview before he left for nationals. “It makes me grateful for almost everything I can do.”

Their routine generally goes like this: After waking up, Loudermilk heads over to help Lorraine get her day started. From there, he goes to class, practice and tutoring and then heads back to her house in the evenings.

“Being with someone every single morning and every single night, you’re there,” he said, noting the two have created an almost-family-like bond. “You’re watching the same shows, you’re cooking together. It’s cool.”

Loudermilk takes Lorraine to church, helps her grocery shop and does whatever else he can to help make her life a little easier.

He wants to do the same thing after he graduates, but plans to help children with disabilities.

“I want to show them that the world’s not as rough as it seems for them in the moment,” he said. “I want to help them get through stuff like that and help them dream and believe and show who they really are.”

For now, though, his time with Lorraine has been the blessing they both needed.

KU high jumper Devin Loudermilk at a meet this season. [Kansas Athletics photo]

During all that time together, it was only natural for them to learn more about each other. And the first time Loudermilk told Lorraine he high jumped at KU, Lorraine asked the only natural question she could think of.

“Are you good?”

Humble and kind to the core, Loudermilk said simply, ‘Yeah, I’m all right.’

From there, he shared with her his heights and various wins, which prompted his new friend to say: “You’re not just all right; you’re pretty good.”

With that, Lorraine wanted to do her part to make sure it stayed that way. So, at each meet Loudermilk has traveled to or competed in, she has asked him to share with her the exact time that he is scheduled to jump so she can say a prayer for him at that very moment.

It appears to be working. Loudermilk is taking one of the nation’s top marks into nationals with him, and his goal this week is as clear as can be.

“Hopefully to win,” he said. “Jump whatever I can jump and hopefully it’s a winning jump. Just keep everything simple.”

His career best clearance is 2.26 meters at the indoor Big 12 championships earlier this year. He won there and won again at the outdoor Big 12 meet by clearing 2.24 meters.

He said he easily should’ve got 2.28 at the indoor meet but was two geeked-up after clinching the Big 12 title.

The best mark in the nation this year (2.29) belongs to Nebraska’s Tyus Wilson, a native of Sterling, Kansas who Loudermilk grew up competing against at the Class 2A level.

A childhood filled with sports

Back in Howard, Loudermilk grew up playing every sport imaginable.

He lived in a part of town where it was his house on the right, his grandmother’s house in the middle and his cousins’ house on the left.

“We had this huge field, and every day we'd spray paint a football field and go play,” he said. “We had a basketball court, we would take golf balls and hit those, we went fishing and raced each other. We played every sport every single day. It did not matter what it was.”

His cousins and brother, Isaiahh — who now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers — were all six or so years older than him. So, he learned early on how to scrap and compete for everything he got.

It was always fun, though. No matter what the sport or when they played it, Loudermilk always enjoyed the chance to compete.

“I’d wake up in the morning and I would hear my cousins and my brother outside playing a game and I’d just run outside and start playing,” he recalled.

Clearly, football was his brother’s thing. Isaiahh went on to play in college at Wisconsin and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Steelers. Being 6-foot-7, 300 pounds helped with that path.

Heck, the older of the two brothers even has his own day back in their hometown. Isaiahh Loudermilk Day became a thing after the Badgers competed in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020.

The younger Loudermilk, however, stands 6-3ish and right around 180 pounds.

He always believed he was a hooper at heart and, like so many young Kansas kids, had dreams of playing basketball at KU one day.

But it was a phone call from KU track assistant Tom Hays that brought him to Lawrence and not the glorious game invented by one of KU’s most famous head coaches.

KU high jumper Devin Loudermilk shares a moment with assistant KU track coach Tom Hays at a meet this season. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Why KU?

Loudermilk high jumped in high school. But he got by mostly on raw ability.

He had no plan for his jumps, was limited in his understanding of proper technique and approach and usually was good enough to win by just finding a way to get over the bar.

His coach, whom he still calls Mrs. Simmons, knew that he had big time potential because of what he was able to do without much effort.

He cleared 6 feet, 10 inches as a high school senior, all on natural athletic ability.

He always liked track and high jump specifically. But he never really thought much about what that could mean.

“I knew I wanted to go to KU,” he said. “And I kind of knew I was going to play something in college somewhere. I just didn’t know what I was going to be doing.”

That’s where Mrs. Simmons stepped in. Her repeated emails to Hays helped KU discover the young high jumper from Howard, Kansas.

“I think she was like spamming him with emails,” Loudermilk said with a laugh. “But I think she could see it. I was jumping 6-10 off the worst approach, and she knew that if I got the right coaching I could be so much better.”

So did Hays. Pretty quickly, in fact.

After an initial phone call that featured as much discussion about their shared love of working as farmhands while growing up as it did collegiate track, Loudermilk quickly figured out that both KU and high jumping full-time were for him.

He still heads to the rec to play hoops with his roommates and track teammates, George Jackson and Jaden Patterson.

“It never goes away,” he said.

But his full-time focus as a training athlete quickly shifted to high jump, and he hasn’t looked back since.

KU high jumper Devin Loudermilk at a meet this season. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Becoming a true high jumper

The path from athlete to high jumper was challenging.

Loudermilk’s raw ability always served him well, but there were steps he needed to take and things he needed to accept before he could make the kind of progress that would lead him to become a Big 12 champion and national qualifier.

The earliest of those steps was changing the way he jumped.

“Coach Hays always said I was a basketball jumper, because I would kind of load myself up,” Loudermilk recalled. “And he was like, ‘I want to turn you into a high jumper; and once we turn you into a high jumper, you’re gonna jump any bar you want.’”

To do that, they had to work on things like footwork, approach, mindset, mental toughness and gaining experience through countless reps.

All of that was foreign to Loudermilk, who said his plan in high school was to show up to a meet look at the bar, decide that was the height he wanted to try to clear and then go do it.

“It was completely different every time,” he said. “And when I told him that, Hays just gave me a crazy look.”

That’s when the work began. And that’s when things got tough. Especially mentally.

“It was super-uncomfortable at first,” Loudermilk said. “That first year was a huge transition. I was jumping 6-10 in high school and my freshman year at KU I was barely getting 6-8. It was kind of rough. I talked to my brother about it a lot.”

Great idea.

See, when Isaiahh went from his 8-Man football days on the Kansas plains to Big Ten football with the Badgers, he had a similar revelation.

“He said he had to completely relearn football and he reassured me that, at some point, it’s going to get better,” Loudermilk recalled of those conversations with his brother.

In fact, Isaiahh assured him that he eventually would be “even better than you were before.”

With that, Loudermilk was all in. And the work was intense.

“It was a lot, mentally,” he said. “We just jumped over and over and over until Hays was like, ‘OK. That’s what it’s supposed to feel like.’ And once I felt it, it was hard to not feel it again.”

Hays demonstrated what the proper technique was supposed to look like by throwing a pole vault into the ground at an angle and watching it effortlessly sore over the bar.

Keeping that plant leg straight was the whole key and Loudermilk describes it as reacting off of the ground instead of powering through it.

“I’ve always known I could jump higher bars,” he said. “But it was just a matter of getting me in the right position to do it.”

He first cleared 7 feet in practice during the recent indoor season. Then in a meet. And soon thereafter he was clearing 7-3 on multiple occasions.

Interestingly enough, it was a jump of 6 feet, 11.75 inches during his sophomore season that made him feel like he had finally become a high jumper.

It came at the Rock Chalk Classic in Lawrence. And he left that meet thinking, “Dang. I’m so close to 7 feet. I’m a high jumper now.”

The next chapter

All of this has led Loudermilk to today, where he’s just days away from competing for a national championship.

While he’s very much the same person that he was all those years ago in Howard, Kansas, he acknowledges that he’s a very different athlete.

He’s a high jumper. With a plan. And he never deviates from that plan.

Long gone are the days of just winging it. To win at this level, you have to be precise. And Loudermilk is wired to be just that, in part because he has trained his mind and his body to thrive in that space.

“I feel like everyone’s path is a little different,” he said. “Last year was kind of my year to finally see those bigger bars and see what competing at a higher level feels like. So, I feel like I’m on the right path now.”

When his time to jump rolls around later this week in Eugene, Oregon, he’ll be ready.

He’ll, of course, text Lorraine to let her know when he’ll be jumping. And then he’ll go about his business the same as he always does.

His warm-up is the exact same every time and it consists mostly of two short-run jumps and one long-run jump, no matter if he makes them or misses.

Regardless of the result, he finds something good to focus on in all three.

The lone element that differs from meet to meet is the height at which he comes into the competition. That’s usually a feel thing. And his declaration to the event official almost always comes after his three warm-up jumps.

Loudermilk knows that his short approach is the strongest part of his game. So even when taking the long approach, he views those first steps as his way to get to the short approach. The three steps at the end give him his power.

A lot of jumpers who favor the long approach tend to be speed jumpers. But Loudermilk is a power jumper. Just like his brother was back when he used to brag about clearing 5 feet, 2 inches in middle school.

Loudermilk’s whole approach these days is designed to keep his jumps to as few as possible, which allows him to conserve energy — physical and mental — for the money jumps.

Loudermilk has come a long way.

For a kid who grew up being known almost exclusively as “Isaiahh Loudermilk’s brother,” hearing himself introduced to the KU athletic department staff members as “the pride of Howard, Kansas,” when he spoke to the group at a recent all-staff meeting meant a lot to him.

“It actually felt amazing to hear that,” he said of the words uttered by KU AD Travis Goff.

The goal now is simple — win often and improve as much as he can during his time left at Kansas, so that he can position himself for a chance to turn pro.

Although he has a clear plan for a career path outside of track, Loudermilk would love to land a sponsorship or jump for a big brand after college. He knows though, that, in track, everything is results-based. There are no role players or secondary skills in track and field.

“It’s just wherever those bars take me,” he said.

R1S1 features on 5 of the Jayhawks at Outdoor Nationals:

• 'I've had the record in my sights'

• KU's Yoveinny Mota off to nationals as record holder & future Olympian

• Devin Loudermilk's jam-packed path from hooper to high jumper

• 'It's kind of what you dream of'

• Clayton Simms' memorable streak

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