Jonah Mathews likes hopping over fences.
It is what the senior was doing when he met track and field coach Brian Meyer at Fife High School’s stadium three years ago.
“(Mathews) was with his dad, and he was doing box jumps over the (about 4-foot-tall) fence,” Meyer said. “And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who is that strange little boy?’ ”
Meyer walked over and introduced himself. The two talked sprinting, and Mathews, who had played baseball for 12 years, offered some fast race times Meyer could only chuckle at. He would believe it when he saw it.
He certainly saw it during Fife’s dual meet against River Ridge earlier this month. Seconds after winning the 200 with the second fastest time of any runner in the state at 21.54 seconds, Mathews effortlessly swung his legs over the same fence where he first met Meyer to hand his coach the score sheet.
The time was a school record. It’s the best time in the 2A classification through Tuesday’s meets by 0.33 seconds over River Ridge’s Dejuan Frye and it came the same day Mathews also ran a school record in the 100 at 10.65 seconds, outstepping Frye by two strides.
That’s also the second-best time in the state.
“I didn’t think I’d honestly go that fast,” Mathews said. “I was just focused all day, it’s all I really thought about.”
Mathews, who is usually jumpy and loud on meet days, was more serious that day.
“He’s probably as mentally tough as I’ve seen him in the time that I’ve known him,” Meyer said. “He just kind of shows up and says, ‘OK, I’m going.’ ”
Mathews’ introduction to track was a bit of a fluke. He joined his junior high team as a freshman, when McKenna Fietz — a Fife senior who also runs sprints — talked him into it.
So just like that, Mathews gave up baseball, where he was primarily an agile center fielder who could zip around the bases. The quickness translated well.
During a meet against Glacier View Junior High his freshman year, Mathews was tossed in to the 100 to fill an open lane. He was raw, and didn’t use blocks for the start, but breezed to a first-place finish anyway.
“Everyone was like, ‘What?’ ” Mathews said. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll try that again next meet to see if I actually know what I’m doing.’ ”
The excitement was fleeting. The following meet, Mathews fell to the asphalt at Fife while running the 100, fracturing his hip.
“I just saw him bouncing all over the track like a rubber band broke,” Fietz said.
It took Mathews eight months to recover, but he was at full capacity for the beginning of his sophomore season. In his first meet — the SPSL 2A/3A jamboree in March 2013 — Mathews beat 95 runners to take first in the 100 at 11.36 seconds.
This year, he is the Class 2A favorite to win the 100 and 200 at the state meet. At the Pasco Invite, he won the 200 and placed second in the 100 — behind Eastmont’s Phillip Moore, who is the only sprinter in the state who has run faster times than Mathews.
Following his breakout sprinting performances, Mathews has developed into a vocal presence for the Trojans. He helps lead warmups, and tries to lobby athletes who play other sports — like baseball — to join track. Fife’s turnout is 124 students — up from 68 last season.
But Mathews is mostly recognized for his quirks. He wears brightly colored sweatshirts over his singlet, has highlighter-yellow warmup shoes, and sports a pair of neon orange sunglasses that match the color of his car.
“He’s a zoo,” Meyer joked. “He’s a big, giant zoo.”
And then there are the pajama pants.
Mathews wore a pair during his first meet as a sophomore, and has done the same every meet since. He has a drawer full of novelty pajama pants at home — more than 10 pairs, less than 25 — including favorite pairs that feature the Cookie Monster and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“The pajama pants just fit my personality I guess,” Mathews said. “I’m pretty outgoing and I talk a lot.”
Mathews still gets nervous before races, and understands the preparation necessary to make his run at multiple state titles this season. His wacky wardrobe takes the edge off.
“If I take it too seriously, I’ll overthink it and do something wrong,” he said.
Mathews opted for the Cookie Monsters against River Ridge.
“They have pockets,” he said. “You can’t really carry a phone around the meet without pockets.”
He uses it to play music before he races. On this day, he listened to Styles of Beyond’s “Second to None.”
Which, in Class 2A sprints, is exactly what he is right now.