Sunday, January 4, 2009

More on being a Husker...

Recently, I read an article from the Omaha World Herald, which discussed the recruiting strategy of the Nebraska football coaching staff. Nebraska has shifted it focus of recruiting efforts to athletes who come from the more successful high school programs, not just whoever has the greatest stats. Here's an excerpt:

The theory goes like this: Players from dominant high school programs understand the work necessary during the season and offseason to ease the transition to college. In addition, the Huskers hope the winning ways of their recruits will infect the hallways and meeting rooms at Memorial Stadium.

“The thing you know you’re going to get with these kids is that they’re going to have great work ethic, character, probably good grades, and a lot of them will be able to handle the grind — what it means to be a college football player,”...

This really got me thinking about the people who are successful, and what their backgrounds are. I even started looking at myself, and my background, to see if this applied to my own life, racing and performances.

I would say I have had a lot of success, and was a part of a very successful program when I first got into endurance sports. I started running in high school, while at Lawrence Central in Indianapolis, initially because my dad insisted I try it. Then after hearing the coach talk to a group of us in the weight room, I decided to give it a try. The track team was ranked #1 in the state, and had just missed winning the state meet the season before. So late in my sophomore year, I came out for the track team, and in a matter of weeks saw some success, and was hooked. Come the fall, I went out for the cross country team, instead of my normal football path. In a matter of a few months, I went from a beginner, to as high as 3rd man on a team ranked 8th in the state of Indiana. In all my time there, we were never ranked lower than #1 in the state in track.

My coach was Mike Holman, who is still a major figure in coaching education for USA Track and Field, and has been named head coach of many national teams, and recently was even named to the US Olympic Coaching Staff for Beijing. My junior year there was a senior on the team named Nick Middleton who Holman coached to the National Title in the mile, running 4:07.47. Nick also won 4 state titles while I was on the team, in a state where there is only one class, not divisions based on school sizes. It was every school against every school.

Nick helped set the standard of performance, which led me to continuing on to be successful as well. I had a competitive spirit, and Holman's coaching knowledge and the standards of the program he helped set made me be successful. It taught me what it took to get to the top. As a senior I was the #1 runner for the team all year, and qualified individually for the state meet 3 times. I finished All-State three times, and as a senior won 2 Marion County titles, 3 Sectional titles and even 1 Regional title. My senior season, we finished 2nd at the Indiana State Championships.

I wasn't ending up with the top ten times in the nation in any event, but I ran sub 4:20 for the mile, and had a desire to run the steeplechase, which is where most people agreed I would shine. Sub 4:20 milers are a dime a dozen nearly in high school, so Nebraska saw something special in me.

When I went to Nebraska, I/we had a lot of success as well. I was a key scorer for a team that finished 7th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, still the best finish in the university's history. I was also a member of team that won countless Big 8/Big 12 Championships, and even a close second a few other times. In 1996, we became one of the first programs to dethrone Arkansas from their top podium spot for the prior 11 years at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

The point of this post is that I believe it was this standard of being a part of winning programs that taught me what it took to be so successful in triathlon at the many different levels. The fact that I didn't know how to swim when I started the sport of triathlon didn't matter to me because I knew the work it would entail, and I did it. I became a student of the sport, much as being at Nebraska and Lawrence Central forced me to be a student. You had to know and understand the finer details to become a winner. You had to go the extra mile, because that was the standard.

It's funny, I look at the top recruiting classes for college football each year, and the Huskers never seem to rank very high. Even when they won 3 National Championships in 4 years, they never had a top 10 ranked recruiting class. Yet it didn't matter, because winning is as much as about hard work and the mental toughness that comes from putting in the time and effort, as it is about talent. They just won 9 games this past season, and no one expected that. No one expected me to ever do what I did in the sport of triathlon, or even running. But it was the standards the programs set that forced me to rise about the rest.

I remember a post from Jameson's blog back in 2007, where he said:

"I really want to race hard. It's someting I will continue to work on and something I was lacking last year. I had some good results last year but I think it was far from what I am capable of. In this respect I really look up to Jim. He races hard. It doesn't matter what phase of training he's in. He could be shelled or fresh. It doesn't matter whether it's an Xterra race, a local 10k, a club Aquathlon, and I think most people know about his IM debut in Florida (3rd overall, 8:37 just in case you didn't). He shows up, puts his game face, and races hard. He can flip the switch and get the best of whatever he has on that day. To achieve the lofty goals I have set for myself this year I am going to need to learn how to do this and truly leave it all out on the course."

This is something I learned directly from my past experiences. No excuses, just performances. We had to be ready at all times, no race was small or unimportant. We wanted to win and run fast at all times. It was funny to me when I read that post back then, because I didn't realize I was that way, it was just what I used to.

It's because of this, I am proud to say I am still a Lawrence Central Bear, and a Nebraska Husker!


PS - The good grades part, I did well there too, with 2 academic scholarships and Academic All-Big 12 every year. I wasn't just legs and lungs!


Sue said...

What you just wrote about are the basic reasons my kids are involved in the sports they have chosen...pride, determination, honor, and life experiences...You need to read Chloe's (my 12 yr old) race report titled "Virginia" on my blog...Insight is big in life goals and experiences...

jameson said...

good post dude.... hopefully we'll get to race against eachother some time this year... some running race, xc, or beer drinking!