C.J. Licata had two years of competing taken away from him. Now he’s getting them back. The graduate transfer for South Carolina track and field spent four years at Princeton where he not only earned All-Ivy League honors twice, but also took home First Team All-American honors as a senior and Second Team All-American honors as a junior. However, he missed out on two years of competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the Ivy League halted all competitions for two years, while an injury cost him part of another year.
“The Ivy League has a rule where you can’t be a graduate student and compete, so you have to do it in four years,” said Licata, who earned a degree in history from Princeton and is now working on his Master of Business Administration at South Carolina while competing in the shotput and discus. “I came into Princeton and broke my foot my freshman outdoor season, so I got a medical redshirt. The only way I could get an extra year of eligibility at Princeton was to take a year off from school. I came back my sophomore year and competed for the indoor season and then COVID (pandemic) hits. Boom. There goes another outdoor season. Then the next year, the Ivy League cancelled all sports again for the entire conference. So, last year I competed in my third indoor season and my first outdoor season. That’s four years, and one outdoor season, so to use my eligibility, I had to come somewhere else.
“It was frustrating seeing everyone else from other conferences competing.”
Licata never thought about leaving Princeton before he completed his undergraduate degree because he knew what it meant for his future to have a degree from the school, and he really enjoyed all the other aspects of campus life. Once completed, he said he was looking for a “powerhouse” place to compete and use his remaining eligibility with one indoor season and three outdoor seasons left. He had the opportunity to compete as an unattached athlete at one point at South Carolina, and that helped in his decision.
“I was looking for somewhere to train where there was great weather, great training partners, and access to a lot of resources that anybody would need to get to the next level,” Licata said. “I knew that (South Carolina assistant) coach (Mike) Sargent was one of the best in the game. It was pretty clear when I took my visit here that this was the place. I could go to the business school here too, which is also what I was looking for. (The) Darla (Moore School of Business) is great!”
“ It’s really cool to be in an environment where people care about their sports so much. I love the energy.”
Licata laughs about being the “old man” on the team by the time he uses up all of his eligibility, but he is just glad to be able to compete and reach his goals.
Licata played basketball and lacrosse growing up and started throwing in track and field as a freshman in high school. It didn’t take long for him to find a passion for it.
“It was a great outlet that I found,” Licata said. “I did it my freshman year, but not well at all. I got some training my sophomore and junior year and later met a coach over the summer and made huge improvements. It made me go from a rec guy to someone who could maybe go to college for it! When I opened up my junior season, I realized I could do it.
“I really enjoyed working out. I love lifting and how it made me feel. I really like the shotput and the discus with all of the technique that’s involved. When I really learned how to throw, I was hooked.”
His commitment and patience have paid off. Now, he’s looking forward to achieving big goals and returning to the NCAA Championships and more.
“My first goal is to get the NCAA Championships in Outdoors and beat my eighth place finish from last time,” Licata said. “You have to be on your game there, and that’s why I’m here. I want to win an SEC Championship because if you win an SEC Championship, you can get top five or top three at the NCAA Championship. That’s how competitive the SEC is. That’s the first goal, and then down the road, I want to win an NCAA Championship. I came here for the long haul. I want to hit the Olympic standard in college.
“Almost everybody’s goal is to compete in the Olympics. I want to get to the point where I’m a world-class athlete.”
The New Jersey native is already enjoying his time as a Gamecock and also adjusting to life in the South.
“In some ways, things are little more simple here, but in a very good way,” Licata said. “I like the culture here and how it’s a little more slow-paced. That is not a negative! The Northeast is very fast-paced, and it can be exhausting. People love their Gamecock sports here. I love that, and how much staff they have here to help in Athletics. It makes it seamless. It’s really cool to be in an environment where people care about their sports so much. I love the energy.”