The men of the high school class of 2008 began their collegiate careers with heavy expectations.
Some of the prep performances they put on where truly remarkable. It all started with an epic 2007 Foot Locker nationals in which Mike Fout ran away from a top-notch field. Then there was Chris Derrick’s 13:55 5k run at the Arcadia Invitational. German Fernandez ran his sick 4:00/8:34 double at the California state meet and capped it off with a national record in the two mile race at Nike Outdoor Nationals.
Their achievements even drew comparisons to the class of 2001 that boasted the “Big Three” of American distance running – Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb and Ryan Hall.
It is a rare occurrence to see freshmen finish in the top ten at the NCAA cross country championships but the men of ’08 managed to have two accomplish the feat as Oregon’s Luke Puskedra and Derrick, now at Stanford, were fifth and seventh respectively in their first trips to Terre Haute. Fernandez was also in contention with the leaders before an injury forced him to drop out with about a mile remaining in the race.
Since that 2008 race, the highest true freshman finisher from the U.S. prep system was Craig Lutz of Texas in 33rd place at Monday’s 2011 championships.
Derrick has gone on to have one of the most consistent collegiate careers in NCAA history. In addition to his 11 and counting All-American awards, he’s finished in the top seven every time he’s raced at nationals, finishing seventh in 2008, third in 2009, fifth in 2010 and second in 2011.
Puskedra has been equally as impressive on the biggest stage. With his 21st place finish as a sophomore as an outlier, the Utah native has been in the top six three times – fifth in 2008, third in 2010 and sixth in 2011.
Oklahoma State’s Colby Lowe, largely overshadowed as a prep, has proved to be as consistent of a cross country runner as there is. His top ten finishes in the last three seasons – tenth in 2009, ninth in 2010 and tenth in 2011 – have been integral in the Cowboys’ two national titles in 2009 and 2010 and second place finish on Monday.
The indoor and outdoor track seasons are next for these guys but the dreams of post-collegiate glory must be on their minds. It’ll be fascinating to see what they can do in the future and whether they can match the accomplishments of the class of 2001′s “Big Three.”