Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Alissa Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter @crazysportgirl1.
Last week, the Pac-12 awarded the University of Colorado’s senior runner Morgan Pearson their Men’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He’s the first CU athlete to earn the award since the school joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
Each year, the conference awards the accolade to the man and woman in each of the 23 sports it hosts that excel in both athletics and academics. In his four years at Colorado after transferring from Duke, Pearson boasts a 3.45 GPA in his math and economics majors and has helped the Buffaloes to three conference championships and a national title.
In 2013, he was selected to the U.S. Track and field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic team in 2013 and earned an All-American bid after placing 17th in the NCAA Championships.
The award came as no surprise to Pearson, who said he was told he would win it last year had he run.
“I think last year I know I was supposed to win it if I had run because it was my last year of eligibility. Mark told me I was going to win it if I had run, so I kind of was like, ‘Oh, I better win it next year,’” Pearson said, laughing.
But because the men’s cross country team was at its strongest in a while last year, Colorado cross country head coach Mark Wetmore encouraged Pearson to redshirt to preserve his skills for when the team would need him most.
“Our team was so strong last year,” Pearson recalled. “We had six, seven, maybe even eight guys that were some of the top runners in the country and like, you only score five. I think Mark took a risk so I could run this year and we could be a little bit deeper this year and have a stronger team and I could score for us this year.”
But that’s not to say he thought much about the award between this year and last year.
“Last year I didn’t really think about it and Ammar (Moussa) just mentioned it to me after (it was announced),” Pearson said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s sweet.’ This year I was like, I guess I didn’t really think about it either, but I was like, when I was told that I won, I thought about how I was predicted to win it last year.”
Regardless, it’s certainly something that can help boost his résumé.
“I mean I was excited. It’s pretty cool. I knew my parents would be stoked too. They were probably more excited than me, so I was excited that they would be excited,” Pearson said.
When Pearson left high school four years ago, he wasn’t entirely sure what sport he wanted to pursue in college athletics. In high school, he participated in swimming, track and field and cross country, but when he improved more on land than in water, he decided to take his cross country career to the next level.
“Out of high school my focus was mostly academics,” Pearson said. “I wanted to run for a Division I college but the coach and the team didn’t really matter. I mean, I wanted a team that was in a major conference, I guess, but other than that it didn’t really matter.”
That led him to Duke, where both of his parents and older brother had attended. Because he wasn’t “super highly recruited out of high school,” Pearson chose to stick with the comfortable option and gave his talents to the Blue Devils.
Although Pearson said he believed he “did all right there,” he began to realize that he had rushed into his decision to run with the Blue Devils. After a while, he decided that he needed to go elsewhere to focus on his running. That’s when he took his visit to Colorado and checked out Coach Wetmore’s résumé.
“Most of the schools I looked at had fairly solid cross country teams. And then this one, obviously, historically this was the best team,” Pearson said. “But yeah, definitely from the standpoint of improving as far as an individual, I thought Mark was the best coach for that.”
All in all, Pearson’s decision to transfer paid off in the end.
“I mean I think the results speak for themselves,” Pearson said. “My times have gone down, I’ve placed nationally, made nationals for all the different indoors and outdoors in cross country. I mean the results speak for themselves and I’m way more of a complete runner than I was at Duke.”
This season, as Pearson finishes up his collegiate career, he hopes to keep his team’s winning streak over the past few seasons alive as they head into regionals and then nationals.
“We want to win team titles at nationals, pretty much,” Pearson said. “That’s the goal. Like individually speaking, I have to step up my game over the last Pac-12s.”
Pearson and the rest of the cross country team head to Albuquerque, New Mexico on Friday, Nov. 13 and Louisville, Kentucky the following Friday to pursue yet another national title.