SIGNING: Sullivan runs to UMO
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 20, 2017 9:57 AM
PRINCETON -- There's nothing better than feeling the adrenaline after threading the needle to a receiver down the middle of the football field.
Even in middle school.
At least, that's what Austin Sullivan thought.
Flash forward three years.
Physical education class.
Sullivan is a freshman at Princeton High School.
Bruce Proctor is the physical education teacher. He tells the class it has to compete a one-mile run. Proctor starts his stopwatch and makes sure no one cuts the corners around the basketball court.
Roughly five minutes later, Sullivan is done.
Proctor looks at the time.
"You ought to think about running track," Proctor said.
Give up football? His one passion?
The lanky athlete, who talks in a good 'ole country boy southern drawl, participated in both sports a freshman. But, then again, something about track appealed to Sullivan, who sat down with mentor Marty Gurganus and talked about his dilemma.
Proctor spoke with head cross country/track coach Mark McLamb.
"Coach McLamb told me I had of natural ability that I could definitely work on," Sullivan said. "I ended up making the best of my life in the long run."
And the 6-foot-4 record-setting distance specialist -- who jokes his legs are longer than the top part of his body -- is far from done. Once he completes in his final prep meet, he'll pack his gear and move about 30 minutes from home.
Sullivan signed a national letter-of-intent to run cross country and track at perennial Division II powerhouse University of Mount Olive next fall.
"It's got that small-town feel kind of like Princeton, so I decided that would be a great place to go," said Sullivan, who plans to major in psychology and minor in either history or english. His ultimate goal is to become a criminal defense attorney.
"It just feels like home."
UMO has developed into one of the most-respected XC and track programs on the region and national levels. The men's XC team has participated in the last five NCAA Division II national championships, and six overall.
The Trojans have won six consecutive conference outdoor track & field championships.
Sullivan likes the parallel of the Princeton-UMO success.
Even down to each school's head coach.
"Coach Matt (van Lierop)? He reminds me so much of Coach McLamb, it's unreal," Sullivan said. "He's a pretty cool dude. He sounds like he's easy to get along with, sounds like he'll work with me down there. I'm just going to do the best I can and hopefully that will be good enough for them."
van Lierop expressed he'd like to see Sullivan run cross country and envisions him running three outdoor events -- 3,000-meter steeplechase, 1,500 and 5,000.
Sullivan likes the "freedom" of running cross country. Training is more individualized and you're able to set your own pace. In track, he does tempo runs, a long run and participates in at least one meet.
"You get more out of it," Sullivan said.
McLamb likes Sullivan's character and that he doesn't give up on any challenge that comes his way. He works hard until he accomplishes it, which is probably one of the attributes van Lierop noticed about the future Trojan.
Sullivan graduates as one of the most-decorated XC and outdoor track runners in school history. He's won the last two Carolina 1-A Conference XC individual championships.
He holds the outdoor records in the 1-mile (1,600 meters) and 2-mile (3,200 meters); and the indoor records for the 1,000 and 5,000. The only things missing on his resume are the 800 record and a state title. Sullivan placed among the top five in both the 1-mile and 2-mile runs during last year's state 1-A outdoor track and field championships.
"I'd like get that state title," Sullivan said. "The school records...shoot, man, somebody is going to come along and break them because records are made to broken. I just want to have it for a little while."
Plenty of records await at UMO.
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