Throughout his years as a high school student–athlete at North Brunswick High School, sophomore Cullen Davis always dreamed of running for a Division I university.
He said he didn’t know where or if he would earn the scholarship money he hoped to obtain. All he knew was that he wanted to keep on running, “as long as I can, for the rest of my life,” he said.
Davis led the men’s cross country team to a first-place finish last Friday afternoon at the Friend Invitational at Belmont Plateau, where Temple bested inner-city rivals and fellow Atlantic 10 Conference-competitors Saint Joseph’s and La Salle. It had been a while since Davis crossed the finish line first, he said.
“I was very happy,” Davis said. “I hadn’t really won a race like that since high school. I kind of forgot what it felt like to lead a race and actually win.”
“We expected one of us to get first,” Davis added. “Any one of us could have finished first — between [junior Will Kellar], me, [sophomore Matt Kacyon], or [freshman Steve Flynn]. It’s just that I took over that role yesterday, and I was pretty pleased.”
As a freshman, Davis stayed under the radar for most of his rookie season. But at last year’s A-10 Championships, he had a breakout performance when he was relied upon to step up and pick up the slack for Kacyon, who was ill. That day, Davis bested his average race time by a full three minutes. His success continued into the track & field season, when he put on several strong performances and eventually was among five Owls to participate at the USA Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“Last year it was hard getting used to the constant competition, because every time you go out and race at this level, it’s going to be tough,” Davis said. “I feel like last year I grew and became a tougher runner, so now I’m more prepared to push myself.”
Now, in his second season with the team, Davis still experiences some pre-race jitters, but for a different reason.
“I’m putting more pressure on myself this year,” Davis said. “I want to go out there and compete instead of just ride along as a freshman. I feel like I need to take a little bit more of a leadership role, and compete.”
In the few weeks he has been with the team, newly hired coach Adam Bray already took notice of Davis before Friday’s race.
“[Davis] has been doing a tremendous job in practice and the way he’s approaching everything,” Bray said. “It shows out there on the course. He’s ready to go. Once we get going in the season, and once he gets a little more fitness, I think some really big things are going to come his way.”
Bray said talent and hard work are two of the most important criteria needed to be successful. Davis, he said, has both of those characteristics on the race course, qualities that could lead to even more success later in his collegiate career.
“I think by the time he’s a senior, and he stays injury-free, he could be an All American in cross country or a national qualifier in track,” Bray said. “The sky is the limit with him. He realizes that, and he’s willing to put in the work.”
Bray stopped short of saying Davis will have an opportunity of earning such national recognition this season. That sort of success would come later, he said. For now though, Davis is continuing his dream of running for a Division I program.
“I’ve reached that goal,” Davis said. “Now I’m just enjoying the ride.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.