Rock Chalk Weekly: Home Is Where the Heart Is
Written by Brittney Maddox, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Sometimes it is not about what you are running from, but where you are running to. Kansas senior Jacob Morgan has taken his first steps into his final season of cross country this fall and has had quite the journey leading him to this point.
A native of Topeka, Kansas, Morgan admits he loved growing up in the Heartland. It is the place he considers home and where everything began for him. Although Morgan’s parents were big athletes in their high schools, Morgan found his love for running on his own. His younger sister, Amanda, followed in his footsteps and also runs at the collegiate level at Fort Hays State University. This is where his passion for running was fostered from an early age.
“In middle school, we had running club two times a week and then track in the spring,” Morgan explained. “I liked it right off the bat. It was a lot of fun from the beginning; I just enjoyed it from the very start and kind of kept going with it.”
In high school, Morgan earned the Gatorade State Boys Cross Country of the Year Award, won both 2010 and 2011 Kansas State 6A Cross Country Championships and finished fourth in the 1,600-meter run at the 2011 Kansas State 6A Track and Field Championships.
Throughout his middle school and high school running careers, his technique and love for running gradually increased. As the thoughts of college started getting closer and closer, Morgan started to think about what his next move would be. His questions weren’t surprising compared to other teens contemplating their college futures as he pondered staying close to home, venturing out, playing sports at the collegiate level, starting fresh, etc. In the end, Morgan yearned for a sense of adventure, he wanted to try something different from his life in Kansas – so he chose to begin his collegiate running career for Colorado State University (CSU), where he would eventually spend his freshman and sophomore years.
“It was something different,” Morgan explained. “I didn’t know much about it but that it had the allure of something different, something foreign. I liked what they were doing out there and it interested me.”
He made his mark at CSU by maintaining his accomplishments on the track as well as in the classroom. He finished in the top half of the field during the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championship and helped the Rams grab their highest finish of eighth place at the national meet since 2003.
Life in Fort Collins, Colorado, as opposed to Topeka, Kansas, is very different in terms of the climate, the scenery and the people. Morgan described Fort Collins as “a pretty town that was all-around interesting and new to what he had known before.”
It was refreshing, but something was missing. Morgan remembers that as he progressed through Colorado State’s program, he was really struggling with what he wanted to do and how he was going to commit more to the school and the team.
“I realized that was not what I wanted at all. I came home for spring break and I felt better. I felt more like myself here than I did there,” explained Morgan.
Although he enjoyed the beginning of his college experience, Morgan thought more about where he was, what he was doing, and what he ultimately wanted.
“I wanted to be closer to family,” said Morgan. “I was kind of homesick while I was out there and the more I started thinking about it, I realized I wanted to be here.”
Kansas’ assistant cross country coach, Michael Whittlesey, had actually been pushing for Morgan to commit to KU since his senior year of high school. Morgan admits remembering Whittlesey’s persistence and laughs, realizing that the tables had turned. He said he contacted Whittlesey late in his sophomore year, and both CSU’s and KU’s coaching staffs were extremely nice and understanding about it all.
Morgan claimed that along with KU’s home feel, the program it offered attracted him most. Running for CSU felt more like work to him — he wanted to find his love for running again.
“It was very different; here it is all-encompassing success rather than just certain programs expecting to do so. The expectations of the athletic director I remember at CSU were on the fence about who we were and what we were doing. (KU Athletic Director Sheahon) Zenger has a better idea of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish, which is nice,” said Morgan.
After weighing out all the options, the pros, the cons and overall desires, Morgan made the switch to the University of Kansas. He was able to gain that independence and feeling of something new, but his heart was pulling for his home.
Besides all the excitement and eagerness to return where he felt he needed to be, Morgan’s expectations for KU were really to just have fun and enjoy it all again.
When Morgan first started at the University of Kansas he admitted that it was actually pretty overwhelming and startling for him. He noticed the different dynamics between the team he was a part of for two years to this new team he just joined.
“I was scared at first, but now I am definitely excited and thankful for how it all turned out,” Morgan exclaimed.
There really is no place like home and Morgan realized that after his escapade to Fort Collins. Morgan is still happy with the decision to return to Kansas. Although humble toward the experiences and opportunities CSU had to offer, KU felt like home to him.
“I am more comfortable here,” Morgan explained. “I have a better sense of things and people have more like-values here than they do out there.”
Morgan continue, “It is nice that everyone kind of welcomed me back, which was amazing – I am really thankful for what they’ve done.”
Whittlesey seemed to be thoroughly impressed and satisfied with Morgan’s first season at KU. It was clear that Morgan held a natural leadership role as a teammate on-and-off the course.
“He had a very nice season for us his first year,” Whittlesey explained. “He was fifth at the conference meet and definitely led us from a physical standpoint; he did a really good job of showing the guys how good we really can be and how hard we need to train to be really good.”
During his first year at KU, Morgan finished as the top Jayhawk in six of the seven races he competed in; he garnered the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year Award after placing in the top five at the conference meet. He also earned All-Region honors at the Midwest Regional Championships with a clocking of 31:29.4.
Starting his final collegiate season, Morgan is hoping to end strong. He has some personal goals he would like to accomplish as well as continuing to provide leadership for the team.
“I would like to improve on what I did last year,” Morgan said. “It was a big confidence boost. I was able to get into the front of the races, but not quite able to hold on all the way. Now I would like to stay up there a little longer and finish a lot higher in races and be able to be a constant stick for the team.”
Morgan’s attributes to the team his first year at KU included several qualifying positions, consecutive fast times, and multiple victories. He came to KU with high hopes and even higher expectations. Morgan wasted no time making his presence known to Kansas Athletics. Morgan has even higher expectations for his team this season.
“Team wise, I’d really like to get that automatic qualifier spot for nationals,” Morgan continued. “We’re going to have to improve quite a bit, but I think we have a shot. Day by day, I think we keep getting better.”
Whittlesey’s expectations are not far from Morgan’s.
“He wants to win and I want him to win,” Whittlesey said. “His individual goals are right there to win the conference meet and win every race he can get into and every race we should be at.”
Nothing but success and progress are on Morgan’s mind this year. He has broken records, maintained a status and paved himself a well-experienced path that seems to keep getting better and better as more strides are taken.
Whittlesey thinks so highly of Morgan, when asked to describe him in one word, the first thing that came to mind was “determined.”
“Jacob is very set on what he wants to achieve and when he is focused on achieving it, he is pretty determined to go out and get it,” Whittlesey concluded. “From his racing standpoint, from his training perspective and his academics, he is pretty determined to be successful.”
For Morgan, it turns out he was never really running from anything but his journey was leading him home. Morgan stated that if he had the chance to do it all over again, he would still choose to go to Colorado State first.
“I learned a lot; I am really happy with what I learned and what I figured out while I was out there. Coming back here just wouldn’t have been the same if I came here outright – I don’t think I’d be as grateful as I am now,” said Morgan.
Being away from his home made him appreciate it that much more; with his decision to return to the state of Kansas and to run for its flagship institution, Morgan not only has success, but a full heart.
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