‘Something to keep fighting for’

Justin Berg has fled from two cut track & field programs.

Justin Berg transferred to Penn State following the athletic cuts. Hua Zong | TTN
Justin Berg transferred to Penn State following the athletic cuts. Hua Zong | TTN

He knew he couldn’t stay.

The everyday routine of a Division I thrower, and the competition it harvests are what Justin Berg said keeps him going. He had already jumped universities once in his collegiate career in order to keep his career alive. And once Temple Athletic Director Kevin Clark delivered an announcement on a rainy afternoon last December that seemed all too familiar – the cutting of seven varsity sports, including men’s indoor and outdoor track & field – Berg knew the next step.

After all, he’d done it before.

“I had to find something to keep fighting for,” Berg said. “Continuing on and competing was what that was. I had to continue to compete, and that wasn’t going to happen to Temple.”

The well-traveled redshirt junior first attended Millersville University, a Division II school, out of Spring-Ford High School in Royersford, Pennsylvania. His 2011-12 freshman season culminated in a seventh-place finish in the hammer throw at the Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference Championships.

Berg decided to play out that season, as Millersville had announced its intention to cut its men’s track and cross country programs two months earlier, in February 2012.

He moved to Temple that fall, winning the University of Miami’s Hurricane Alumni Invitational in the hammer throw in Spring 2013, along with a fourth-place finish at the Atlantic 10 Championships.

“When I went to Temple, the team was a great fit,” Berg said. “The first day I got there, we had a physical done and I made friends right away. … Going from D-II, the Atlantic 10 was comparable. It was slightly better. We had more training at Temple, but it wasn’t too big of a deal.”

While he said he liked his time at Temple, the mathematics major said his collegiate experience consists of class and throwing. When Clark gave his announcement to the assortment of 150 student-athletes seated in Temple’s Student Pavilion, Berg’s mind was racing.

“It was worse because you’re worried about what’s going to happen,” Berg said, comparing that announcement to his Millersville experience. “I knew fully more how it goes transitioning from one school to another.”

The Phoenixville, Pennsylvania native took a redshirt for the indoor and outdoor seasons last year, and penned emails to coaches at the University of Texas, the University of Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Penn State.

His visit during the winter break to Penn State introduced Berg to the school’s track team and its plethora of facilities, including standardized indoor and outdoor track & field facilities on campus.

Berg, along with his soon-to-be throwing coach, was sold.

“I came down for the Blue-White meet [last year],” Berg said. “I came down then and once I got here and started seeing guys throwing at the meet, in my head I knew I was coming here. This is the best throws program in the area and I’m a math major, they have a fantastic program. So, it was the best school and the best athletic program I could get in to.”

“He’s thrown in college before, so he’s proven himself,” Patrick Ebel, Berg’s throwing coach at Penn State, said. “Coming in the [Big 10 Conference], it’s going to be a tough conference for him, but I liked his demeanor and approach of the events. He’s a student of the sport and I was impressed by his knowledge and what he brought to the table.”

After his departure from Temple following the cuts, Berg enrolled at Penn State in a summer session. While he said he’s beginning to settle in at his new school, his third collegiate transition took time. He enrolled as a transfer in the summer, and needed to find an off-campus apartment, as Berg said he found out on-campus housing was not guaranteed to transfers.

Still, in the midst of a balmy October at State College, Pennsylvania, Berg said he’s fitting in nicely.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “I’m meeting new people … and I found a roommate from the first day I got here. It’s been cool.”

Ebel said Berg has a clear mindset for what he wants to accomplish during his two upcoming seasons at Penn State – if he doesn’t jinx the program first.

“We talked about what happened at [Millersville and Temple] and I said to him, ‘I‘m getting a little nervous. Every program you come into gets cut,’” Ebel said, in a joking manner.

“He knows what he wants to accomplish and he doesn’t waste a lot of his energy on campus life,” Ebel added. “He’s very driven about his degree and his major. … At the end of the day he’s a quiet kid and goes about his business. He’s very well liked and has fit in real nice.”

Embarking on his first season of competitive track & field in two years, Berg will take part in Penn State’s intrasquad Blue-White meet on Dec. 14, before the team’s regulation schedule kicks off on Jan. 11 with the Penn State Relays.

Berg said he’s going about his routine the way he always has. Go to class, throw, repeat.

“I haven’t even been to a football game yet,” he said.

Andrew Parent can be reached at  andrew.parent@temple.edu and on twitter @Andrew_Parent23

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