Sitting in the Student Pavilion on Dec. 6, distance runner Will Kellar was surrounded by a shocked audience of student-athletes. A lot of them were angry. Many were crying. But Kellar could only shake his head in disbelief.
“I was just like, ‘Wow, this is just icing on the cake,’” Kellar said. “They screwed us over this many times and now it’s just like the ultimate cut.”
Athletic Director Kevin Clark’s announcement that day sealed the fate of men’s indoor and outdoor track & field as two of the initial seven sports that were set to be eliminated on July 1. Facing adversity is nothing new for the distance squad, however.
Kellar has competed for three distance coaches during his running career at Temple and has seen multiple players transfer out because of it. But Kellar stayed – and became a leader while others were jumping ship.
“I think a leader is someone who can make a mistake and quickly find out he has and find a way to correct it,” Kellar said.
Kellar said he credits his dad, a former track star at Upper Darby High School, for getting him into the sport. The two jogged together when he was young, but Kellar did not have a real passion for the sport until he began going to West Chester Henderson High School.
After receiving a scholarship offer from Temple, Kellar chose to continue his running career with the Owls. Temple was not his first choice, but the school grew on him.
“I came for a visit and really liked it,” Kellar said. “West Chester is nice and cheap and close to home, but I wanted a different experience.”
Kellar found track to be different at Temple than at his high school. The roster was smaller, the practices were stricter and the runners were faster. The recruiters and veterans helped him adjust to the team, but his underclassmen seasons were marred with injury.
Part of the problem, Kellar said, was his former coach Matt Jelley pushing him too hard. But Jelley helped Kellar gain confidence that would remain throughout the rest of his tenure at the university, the senior said. When faced with mononucleosis during his freshman season, Kellar was forced to sit out more than a month. Jelley got Kellar back into running shape to finish the season with one of his best runs at Temple. As a sophomore, Kellar broke a 28-year-old school record in the Penn State National Open’s 1,000-meter relay with a time of 2:28.94.
After Jelley’s resignation in 2012, Adam Bray took over the helm. While Kellar found Bray’s new training techniques helpful, Bray only stuck around for four months. This year, track & field coach Eric Mobley brought in James Snyder to take over the distance program. Kellar said Snyder is the best coach he has ever had.
“Since I have been here I have gotten to know Will not just as an athlete, but also as a person,” Snyder said. “Will is the leader of our team, there is no doubt about it. He keeps everything together in times of crisis.”
Kellar’s mindset to racing has also evolved, as he no longer focuses so much on the competition. When he was getting ready for the races at the American Athletic championships two weeks ago, he noticed a quote on the wall that said, “You are your own worst enemy.”
“You should never worry about your competition or who is the fastest, so you’re just racing against yourself,” Kellar said.
As the final months wind down for Kellar before he crosses the finish line for the last time as an Owl, he is doing his best to savor the advantages of being a student-athlete – the structure, the small consequences in a mixed up schedule, sharing a room with one of his peers and the unlimited amount of food in the cafeteria.
“There is a lot more freedom at college and it helps define you as a person,” Kellar said. “You can really establish yourself as a professional person and make use of your time or you can just blow it and cost yourself a good opportunity.”
Stephen Godwin Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.