The 25-year-old returned missionary from Tigard, Ore., proved that in late March at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin when he posted the highest score in the nation up to that point in the season, 7,642 points, and bested three former multi-event national champions to win the decathlon at the prestigious meet.
"Calling myself the best athlete at BYU would be quite a statement," Dalton said, laughing. "I don't know how people would take that. But quietly, and in my own mind, I guess I do feel that way."
Georgia's Garrett Scantling (8,169) and Maicel Uibo (8,123) and Wisconsin's Zach Ziemek (7,860) topped Dalton's Texas performance at the Georgia Bulldog Decathlon in Athens, Ga., last week, but Dalton's score was tops in the nation for several weeks and should easily qualify him for the national championships in June.
It was the fifth-best decathlon score in BYU history.
"It felt great to finally see all my hard work and perseverance pay off," he said. "The last couple of years at BYU, I haven't really done much, so it was just the validation that I am one of the best in the country. I just had to weed through some things to get here."
The performance in Texas was even more mind-boggling because Dalton sprained both his ankles two weeks apart during the indoor season in January and February, and didn't have much time to train for the decathlon, which comprises 10 events as opposed to the indoor season's seven-event heptathlon.
"I went into Texas with no expectations," Dalton said. "Turns out, I won, and that was a great feeling, because taking dead last [at indoors] was a humbling experience."
Dalton attributes his sudden rise from rather mediocre sophomore and junior outdoor seasons to the top of the college decathlon world to three factors: a recommitment to offseason training, motivation to have a memorable senior season, and the arrival of new assistant track coach Stephani Perkins.
After his junior season ended in disappointing fashion, he kept training throughout last summer, not taking a job and dedicating all his time to improving. "I just told myself, 'It is my senior year, and even at the risk of burning out at the end, I am going to give it 100 percent,'" he said. "I said, 'This is my last year, and I am going to do it big.'"
Dalton says Perkins has been a "godsend." The former head coach and founder of Irving (Texas) Elite Track & Field Club and head women's track coach at Texas' Ranchview High brought expertise in the events that Dalton was not doing as well in, the sprints, hurdles and long jump.
"That has really been the difference, and she got me to the fitness level where I can last the 10 events," he said.
Perkins, who was named Assistant Coach of the Year at the recent Y Awards, said she has incorporated biomechanics into the workouts of all the athletes she trains, and Dalton has been able to get more points in the areas in which he was weaker because of his adherence to his training regimen.
"But I didn't expect [a decathlon win] that early, I will say that," she said. "He has always been a good thrower and pretty decent in the other events. But dropping three or four tenths [of a second] in the 100 made a huge difference, and the hurdles, too."
Dalton's college career actually started well. He won the junior national championship in the decathlon after his freshman season in 2008 and was third in the javelin. The title earned him a trip to Poland for the junior world championships, where he placed 11th in the decathlon.
But while on his LDS Church mission to Tucson, Ariz., Dalton suffered two injuries that would eventually slow his return to competition. He tore the labrum in his shoulder playing a pickup game of flag football, and broke his hand while helping someone move when it got caught between a cactus and a bird cage. He redshirted in 2011 after shoulder surgery, and muddled through 2012 and 2013 before Perkins' arrival.
"I knew the potential was in there, but I was mentally defeated," Dalton said. "I chalked it up to being washed up, but I never thought about quitting. I knew if I got it figured out, I could make it back to being one of the top decathletes in the country, like I was my freshman year."
Regardless of what happens at the NCAA nationals, Dalton plans to continue his dream of competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The USA Championships take place two weeks after the NCAAs, and Dalton hopes for a top-five finish there that would qualify him for an international meet in Germany and perhaps gain the attention of potential sponsors.
"I really feel like I have a future in this," he said. "Some people might call that cocky or arrogant, but to me, the people that are at the top, before they were there, they thought they were the best. I really do feel like I can make it." Chase Dalton's senior season
• Won the decathlon at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays on March 27, scoring 7,642 points to record the highest total in the country up to that point of the season, and the fifth-highest ever at BYU.
• Placed 14th in the heptathlon at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships, earning All-America honors.
• Won the heptathlon (indoor) at the Air Force Invitational while posting the second-best score in BYU history and personal bests in four events.