It was 1992 when Rob Wright first stepped foot onto the campus of Adams State University in Alamosa. The distance runner from Belen High School in New Mexico gravitated toward the Division II powerhouse because of its rich history.
“They’ve always had a great history of taking average, above-average distance runners and turning them into national champions, All-Americans,” Wright said.
His only tie to Evergreen at the time was that his wife, Michelle, was a native. But that nugget struck a chord with legendary and retired Adams State coach Joe Vigil, who had coached standouts Pat Porter, Jack Sperber, Bob Fink and Craig Dickson — all Evergreen graduates — prior.
Maybe it’s coincidental, though likely not, that Wright is the Cougars’ head cross-country coach. The pipeline — roughly all 200 miles of it —that runs from Evergreen to Alamosa is littered with runners who’ve ventured south to continue their careers.
“There’s a great history of distance running at Adams State. It all started with the Olympic trials marathon in 1968. Runners would start visiting the school and see what was going on,” Vigil said.
One of those runners with Evergreen ties who was influenced was Dickson, a 1985 EHS graduate. But it wasn’t just Adams State’s history that drew him there, but one of his old teammates.
“The big influence when I was a sophomore was Jack Sperber. He was a senior and one of the better runners in the state. He ended up going to Adams State,” Dickson said. “He was having some success and talked to me and said it was a good place to run.”
Dickson, who now resides in Washington state, wasn’t even considering running in college until his senior year. And once the idea did cross his mind, his choices were Wyoming and Colorado State, not Adams State. But that all changed.
He walked on at Adams State without a scholarship. That didn’t matter to the coaching staff, who helped Dickson to win the 1988 NAIA national championship, become a member of three national championship teams and an eight-time All-America runner.
Maybe nobody, however, was as successful as Porter, who won eight USA Cross Country championships between 1982 and 1989, and ran for the United States in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
What maybe draws most runners to Adams State is the attention they receive from the coaching staff once they get there, Wright said.
“When they’re looking for kids, they see the potential in the whole student-athlete instead of just the times and numbers,” Wright said. “They give them the attention they need and have great facilities. More importantly, they have a coach that looks after you and won’t let you go by the wayside.”
Tayler Warren is well aware of Adams State’s history. It played a pivotal role in the Evergreen alum’s decision to attend the Alamosa-based school, and once she got there, the connection between her and Porter was immediately pointed out.
“I went to a camp here during high school. Rob ran here and pushed it. I wasn’t looking at it at first, but I like Coach (Damon) Martin and the team. The history made a difference,” said the redshirt sophomore, who was initially considering either Western State or the University of San Diego. She is one of two Evergreen runners presently running at Adams State. The other is freshman Maura O’Brien, the current EHS record holder in the 1,600 meters, 3,200 and a member of the record-setting 4x400 and 4x800 relay teams. “ … They don’t know where Evergreen is, but they have that connection.”
That connection will only grow stronger with Evergreen senior Jackson Sayler moving on to Adams State in the fall. Last year’s 4A Jeffco League and regional cross country champion had a handful of Division I schools on his radar, including Iowa State and Oklahoma, but he was lured to Adams State, if for no other reason, because of its knack for making high school runners better at the next level.
“It’s kind of like we were saying when we talked on signing day that a lot of D-I schools get fast runners and keep them at that level. At Adams State, be it the fastest guy or the slowest guy, they’re going to make you better,” Sayler said. “They develop you so that you’re running to your maximum potential.”
That is why year in and year out, Evergreen runners turn to Adams State and make that their home for the next four years.
“The ties with Evergreen and the people of Evergreen has been good over the years,” Vigil said.
And they’re only getting better it would seem.
Contact Michael Hicks at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.