D-1 Not the Only One - Hey Hey Hey NAIA!

Tatum at Nike Twilight Sweepstakes Race (63rd Place) - 2019

If you missed our first article in our "D-1 Not the Only One" series, please read about the other avenues to compete in collegiate track and field beyond the NCAA Division-I level. Also, we spotlighted Maddy Shoemaker from Desert Vista on her journey to Fort Lewis College (D2).

NAIA - What's That?

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is the athletic governing body of small athletics programs. There are over 60,000 athletes at the NAIA level with more than 250 schools in Division I and II. NAIA athletes are comparable to NCAA D-2 athletes, generally. NAIA schools do offer athletic scholarships as well. 

Tatum Jelleberg from Skyline will be competing in the NAIA at Hastings College in Nebraska. Further down in this article you will read about how he landed at Hastings.

While many Olympians and professional athletes come from NCAA D-I universities, there are still famous track and field athletes who have come from or started at NAIA schools.

Tim Mack (from Malone College) won the pole vault in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Bryan Clay (US and Olympic Decathlon Champion) went to Azusa Pacific

Mike Rodgers started his collegiate track career at OBU and Lindenwood University

Rodgers still holds the NAIA record for the 60m dash from 2007 with a time of 6.65 during his time at OBU. During his time at the NAIA level, Rodgers won four individual national champions (two in 60m dash and two in 200m dash), as well as being a part of the 1600m national championship-winning relay for Lindenwood. He was the 60m U.S. Indoor Champion in 2008, and earned fourth at the World Championships that year. In the 2012 Olympic Trials, Rodgers was just one-hundredth away from a qualifying run in the 100m dash. However, he did make the U.S team as a relay member.
(from https://www.naia.org/sports/mtrack-out/2016-17/releases/20160711g9lit)

Paul Chelimo (Silver Medalist in 2016 Olympics) ran 2 years for Shorter University in Georgia

Jeffery Henderson at 2016 Olympics - Gold

Jeffrey Henderson, a former Florida Memorial athlete, finished first in the trials for men's long jump. Henderson will head to Rio for the USA after his third-round jump of 28-2 1/4 in Eugene. Henderson competed on the Florida Memorial track and field team for one season. During that year, he was the national champion in for the indoor 60m dash and an All-American in the long jump.

(from https://www.naia.org/sports/mtrack-out/2016-17/releases/20160711g9lit)

Why Compete in College?

Just because you're not the best on your team or in the state, doesn't mean you shouldn't want to compete for more after graduation. If you love the sport of track & field then I would wholly recommend you look for the best for you. While there isn't as much glitz-and-glamour at non-NCAA Division-1 schools, there is still some travel, an opportunity to make it to your division's national meet and bond with like-minded and driven people like yourself. Plus, from a pragmatic standpoint, it may save you and your family a little money if you can get an athletic scholarship from one of these other schools. Moreover, by being one of a coaches' top recruits at nearly any collegiate level can help you, sometimes, get admitted to a better academic school because of your athletic success. 

Tatum Jelleberg

Tatum is a senior at Skyline High School. Tatum reached out to me early in the season (before COVID-19) to let me know that he was going to run for Hastings next fall. I followed up with him with the following questions, to hopefully help those track and field athletes in Arizona, who may not be D-I material but have a passion for the support beyond high school.

Did you always think about running in college? If yes, what were your aspirations before this season? If no, then what changed that made you wish to compete in college?
I had the dream to run in college and possibly beyond when I was in my sophomore year of high school and made a varsity spot in cross country and track and thought I had what it takes to go to the next level after high school.

How did you find out about the schools you got recruited by? Did they find you? Did you reach out to them? What was the process? How important were your school grades in this process?
I did not have any big offers for schools going into my senior year, so I had to push myself to new limits for coaches to see what I could do. Almost all colleges that found out about me came to my meets to watch me race and talked about their programs and how I might be a good fit for them. Most were community colleges/NAIA schools or NCAA D3 schools that had the main focus of building up a strong team from scratch or wanted to build on from what they already had. There were a couple of schools that I was being recruited by that had done well in their previous seasons and championships that wanted to replace their seniors with freshmen that they believed had the capabilities of taking over for their spot later on.

What were you looking for in a college in regards to running?
With what I was looking for when it came to running for a college, I wanted a program that is similar to how I train for cross country and track and is able to be flexible for my needs.

What advice would you tell underclassmen like you, who are good runners, but aren't the US-ranked athletes like others in AZ, in regards to competing in college and finding the right school for you?
Although you are competing on a sports team for your college that you will attend, you must also make sure that you are not focused on that. The main reason to go to college is to build on your education and get a degree, in which all coaches make sure that you are doing well in each of your classes. For those who do not have the ability to obtain a full-ride scholarship athletically, you can also get academic scholarships for simply having a good GPA, and/or high SAT/ACT scores. At Hastings College, which I will be attending this fall, every student has the opportunity to gain an academic scholarship based on those two alone, and there are many other opportunities to receive money for your education!

Who had the biggest impact on you for wanting to compete in college? What was his/her impact?
Many professional runners have gone to community colleges or small schools and performed to the best of their ability to receive offers to the big schools like NAU and Oregon just to name a couple. I know this is true because this exact situation happened with a former runner at Skyline named Fermin Villagran. He had attended Central Arizona College on a good scholarship, then received a scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University, and is now training for the U.S. Olympic Trials if it goes on.

What, if anything, would you have done differently in this recruiting process?
I wish that I had reached out to more colleges rather than try to let them come to me because that limits the opportunities I had to run beyond high school and got rid of possible offers that could have been better than what I received.

Next AZ Feature Athlete - Could it be You?

If you're a senior who is NOT an NCAA D-1 recruit but were recruited to compete at the collegiate level, let us know your story on how you got found by your school.

With the time we all have now at home, I would greatly encourage many of you juniors who aren't the top-level of the track and field talent-pool to start planning now on what schools you may wish to reach out to this spring, summer and early fall. If you love this sport, there is a spot for you somewhere - you just need to find it.

What's your story?

Were you recruited by an NAIA, D-II, D-III, or NJCAA school?

We'd love to hear your story. Email us: dza@milesplitaz.com