FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -– Marquis Dendy is sure he was never nervous. After all, he’s an elite long jumper, and elite long jumpers don’t have nerves, they have swagger.

So when the favorite found himself with two faults and in need of a mark in order to stay in the competition Friday at the 2013 NCAA DI Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championship in Fayetteville, Ark., he simply bolted down the runway, hit the board cleanly and landed 8.10m/26-6 ¾ away in first place.

Earning three more jumps in the event final several minutes later, Dendy, a sophomore from Florida, extended his lead to 8.28m/27-2 and claimed his first NCAA title.

“I wasn’t nervous,” he said with his usual bravado. “But I know my mom, she is probably going to call me sooner or later and tell me, ‘Don’t do that again, I hate when you foul twice and come back in your last jump.’

“In high school, last year, that’s basically what happens. I always foul twice and then come back and do well.”

Dendy’s performance Friday also proved crucial for the team performance. The second-ranked Gators came into the meet as three-time defending champions, but they have the tough task of defeating heavy favorites Arkansas on the Razorbacks’ home track. The Razorbacks led with 30 points after Day 1, with Florida sitting fourth with 14. Dendy hopes to add at least eight more points Saturday by finishing first or second in the triple jump. Second place would be OK with Dendy as long as Florida senior Omar Craddock, seeded second, was the one ahead of him.

“I need to have 18 to 20 points coming from me,” Dendy said.

Dendy arrived at Florida last year as a prized recruit from Middleton, Del. The high school track and field website DyeStat ranked him the top long jumper and triple jumper in the nation after he set state records in both events.

As a freshman, Dendy had success. He was the only athlete to compete in both long jump and triple jump at the NCAA outdoor championships and was the youngest athlete in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials long jump and triple jump finals.

Before his sophomore year, he took a big leap.

“I think the biggest thing is Marquis has really worked on taking care of his diet,” Florida coach Mike Holloway said. “He’s probably 12 pounds lighter than he was a year ago, he is stronger, he is faster; he and coach [Nic] Peterson have really locked into the things that take his jump far.

“He has become a better student of the event this year.”

Diet was important, Dendy agrees, but so was fixing his approach.

“I think I was just being really excited toward the board and I would always reach,” he said.

And now?

“I’m very, very confident in my approach,” he said. “My approach is almost perfect, it is almost perfect. It’s like 80 percent, but that’s good enough for big jumps like 27 [feet]. Those big 28-foot jumps, I’m going to foul. I think it will come with more and more practice.”

Already, Dendy finds himself among elite company at Florida. Two former Gators won Olympic medals in the 2012 Olympics: Christian Taylor, who competed for Florida from 2009 to '11, won gold in triple jump. Will Claye, who was at Florida from 2010-11, was the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in triple jump and bronze medalist in long jump.

Meanwhile, Craddock swept the 2012 NCAA indoor/outdoor triple jump titles and finished fourth in the event at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Yet the best indoor long jump in Florida history belongs to Dendy, who leapt 8.25m/27-0 ¾ at the recent SEC championships. Only Taylor, Claye, Craddock and 1980s Gator Shawn Akridge had better triple jumps. Dendy, who fashions himself a more of a triple jumper than long jumper, could climb that list as soon as Saturday.

“He is definitely going to be one of the better guys in the world one day,” Holloway said. “He is a 27-foot sophomore. But again, he has to be patient, it’s not going to happen overnight. Nobody is going to give him anything, he has to keep working.”