Raised in Van Vleck, Texas, Austin was the youngest of 10 children. He was a senior in high school without any way to pay for college, when some friends convinced him to try high jumping for the track team. He cleared six feet on his first try to make the team and finished the year with a personal best of 6′ 11″.
Austin’s success landed him an athletic scholarship at Southwest Texas University (now Texas State University). After a difficult first few years, he climbed the ranks in the NCAA, shattering school records and his senior year, won the NCAA Outdoor Championship and was the number one college high jumper in the country.