Caleb Dean of the Texas Tech track and field team beats the field and wins the NCAA title

For many on the Texas Tech men's track and field team, the 2024 outdoor season could have been remembered in “what if” terms. What if three-time NCAA champion Terrence Jones had stayed healthy throughout the season? What if the Red Raiders had been able to run and finish a relay race?

For Caleb Dean, there were no “what ifs” and he gave the Red Raiders something they will remember for a long time.

The Texas Tech senior won the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon, on Friday, putting together a dominant performance that makes him a serious contender to make the U.S. national team at the Paris Olympics.

Dean ran 47.23 seconds, once again outpacing a top-class field during his comeback postseason. The second-year transfer from Maryland ran 48.05 in the NCAA West Regional quarterfinals two weeks ago and ran another 48.05 in Wednesday's semifinals at Hayward Field.

“Honestly, it means the world to me,” Dean said on ESPN's broadcast after the race. “I've been battling an injury. I pulled my groin in March, so I didn't even know I was going to be here. I just can't thank God (enough). I've kept my faith strong and I owe my coaches everything.”

Related: Texas Tech track and field results and schedule at the NCAA Championships

Related: Rosemary Chukwuma and Texas Tech advance in NCAA outdoor track and field sprint relay

The 6-foot-4, 175-pound athlete won the NCAA 60-meter hurdles in March, making him the sixth Texas Tech male athlete to win more than one individual NCAA title. Divine Oduduru won four, Jones won three, and JaCorian Duffield, Trey Culver and Kennedy Kithuka each won two, one in cross country.

The 47.23 is the second fastest time ever by a college student behind the 47.02 run by Rai Benjamin for Southern California in June 2018. When Dean was asked last week which hurdlers he enjoys watching, he said Benjamin and Karsten Warholm, the silver and gold medalists, respectively, at the Tokyo Olympics.

He could have a chance to face one or both this summer. The U.S. Olympic Trials will be held again at Hayward Field from June 21-30.

The field for Friday's 400-meter hurdles final included three of the other seven fastest college athletes of all time: defending champion Chris Robinson, the former South Plains College star who runs for Alabama; LSU's Sean Burrell, who won the 2021 and 2022 NCAA titles; and Baylor's Nathaniel Ezekiel, who won last year's bronze medal.

Against this strong competition, Dean led practically from start to finish.

“It felt like a perfect race,” he said. “You all saw the times. I can't complain at all. I'm just blessed.”

“This is the most phenomenal 400-meter hurdles I've ever seen live,” said Tech coach Wes Kittley, “and I've been to several Olympic Games.”

Robinson finished second with 47.98 and Ezekiel finished third with 48.88.

Tech's Oskar Edlund ran 49.23 to take fifth place, earning the junior from Sweden a first-team All-American honor.

Dean and Edlund scored 14 of Tech's 19 points, and the Red Raiders finished 13th in the team standings. The Red Raiders, who had won the NCAA indoor championship in March, had their chances of winning the outdoor title blown when Jones failed to qualify for the NCAA postseason in either the 100 or 200 meters after a hamstring injury had bothered him all spring.

Nevertheless, Tech could have finished much higher if it had not come away empty-handed in two relay races in Eugene.

“With Terrence and two relays in the finals, I think we could have fought for the championship,” Kittley said.

Locking runner Shaemar Uter had to withdraw from the 1,600-meter relay semifinals on Wednesday with a thigh injury. Then the Red Raiders were eliminated in the 400-meter relay finals on Friday when lead relay runner Shawn Brown failed to make the transition to Jones.