The Fastest Tuba Player in the Country, in Tie-Dye Crocs

By George Howe
If you had to pick out Strake Jesuit’s top track and field hurdler based only on demeanor, you might not pick Jacob Cavanaugh ’23. Despite qualifying for the state meet last year in the 300 meter hurdles, Jacob carries himself humbly. In fact, the most striking thing about him is not any physical attribute. It’s his choice of footwear.

If you glance during a meet at the Jesuit track and field camp, the place where athletes lounge on folding chairs between events, your eyes will most likely be drawn to a pair of tie-dye crocs. These shoes, along with colorful socks, are Jacob’s signature. He wears these vibrant accessories as he waits for his events, the 100 meter hurdles, the 300 meter hurdles, and the 4x400 meter relay. In addition to the state qualification in the 300, last year Jacob qualified for the regional meet—one step below the state meet—in his other two events, as well.

“My favorite event is the 300 hurdles,” says Jacob, “because it’s more sprinting than hurdling. In the 100 hurdles, the technique is more difficult.” Despite his success in these events, Jacob had an unorthodox beginning on the Jesuit track team. “My freshman year I threw shotput and discus. I also ran the 100 and 200 meter dash.” It wasn’t until his sophomore year that his coaches recognized his sprinting ability and encouraged him to run the 400 and the hurdle events. In fact, in his first year running the 300-meter hurdles, Jacob managed to make the varsity team and continuously improve throughout the season, ultimately qualifying for the regional meet in the event. This achievement earned him the “Most Improved” award in 2021, an award annually given to a varsity athlete.

Although Jacob’s success seemed to come from nowhere, he’s not the only one in his family to do well in a Jesuit track uniform. Older brother Caleb Cavanaugh ’19 had great success in the hurdles at Strake Jesuit, currently holding three school records. Caleb now runs track at the University of Georgia in his senior year. “He was better than me as a sophomore. My junior year I got closer [to his performances]. Senior year I want to be better than he was,” Jacob says with a laugh.

Track and field is not the only way Jacob contributes to the SJ community. “He’s probably the fastest tuba player in the country,” says coach Tatum Lynn. Jacob plays tuba in the Jesuit band, an instrument he has played since middle school. Jacob was named to the 2020-2021 All-State Band by the Texas Private School Music Educators Association (TPSMEA).

On top of his extracurriculars and academic work— including his favorite class, anatomy with Fr. Baylon— Jacob seeks to live out the Jesuit motto of being a Man for Others in his daily life. “I always try to be kind and respectful to everyone,” says Jacob. “Being at Strake Jesuit has highlighted being a Man for Others and made it more important [to me]. Especially going on Kairos and seeing what people are going through, you never know what someone is dealing with.”

Jacob will seek to beat his brother’s hurdle time this spring in his senior track and field season.