Migut hurdles past the competition

Migut hurdles past the competition

TOLONO — Steven Migut's track and field coaches knew it.

They had come to the realization Unity's next star hurdler was going to prove especially potent in the 300-meter version of that race.

The one person who didn't realize this immediately? Steven Migut.

"(My coaches) were like, 'The 300 hurdles is your race,' because I was really good at the 200 (dash) versus the 100, and I was a good hurdler," Migut recalled. "So they thought ... if I just got the strategic part down that I could really do some damage in it.

"And I was kind of like, 'Yeah, yeah, whatever. I like the 110s. The 110s are my race.'"

The recent Rockets graduate wasn't bad at the 110s, by any mean, coming into high school. Migut earned two IESA state medals in that event as a middle-schooler. He followed with three pieces of hardware in the 110 hurdles at the Class 2A state meet, placing second last month to round out those awards.

And how did Migut fare in this year's 300 hurdles at Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Field?

He walked away the champion.

Safe to say it's his race now.

"As things progressed this past year, I realized, 'Maybe I can do some damage in the 300s,'" Migut said about three weeks after his victory.

With that showing, his runner-up effort in the 110 hurdles and his anchor leg in the Rockets' ninth-place 400 relay, Migut has earned The News-Gazette's All-Area boys' track and field Athlete of the Year honors.

In four trips to the IHSA state showcase, Migut walked away with 12 medals. Six are attached to the hurdles, five come from relays and the last is courtesy of Unity's 1A team title in 2015.

Not bad for a kid who's heading to West Point, N.Y., in July, ready to play football for Army.

"I always thought that I was better at track than I was at football, but I was more passionate for football than track," Migut said. "(But) I wanted to be a successful track athlete. I obviously knew I'd have to work for it."

 

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Migut's foray into hurdling has an amusingly simple origin story.

During one particular sixth-grade track and field practice, Unity Junior High coach Patrick Striegel gave Migut an important nudge.

"He was just sending kids off to different events," Migut said, "and he was like, 'Go try hurdles.' And I was like, 'All right.' I was like, 'Why not?'"

More of a method behind Striegel's decision than Migut might believe existed, according to the present-day Unity High football assistant coach and boys' track assistant coach.

"We started pushing him toward the hurdles because he couldn't quite get up to speed in the 100 dash, but he had the legs and had a high waist that was built for hurdles," Striegel said. "He had a pretty natural talent toward that."

Two years later, as an eighth-grader, Migut heard for the first time what would become a regular sentiment among his elders. He had just finished the 110 hurdles at the IESA state meet and was on the podium before Striegel leaned in to tell Migut and his dad the 300 hurdles was his event.

"He can do anything athletically and be above-average," Striegel said. "I think he's always been open to trying anything anyone asked him to do."

 

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Something important happened in Migut's transition to high school track: Unity formed a team capable of capturing a state championship.

And that wasn't the only key development in Migut's track life. He also suffered a stress fracture in his foot, an injury exacerbated by hurdling that didn't prevent him from sprinting in general.

Rockets coach Tim Gateley knew exactly what to do with his potential-filled freshman during that 2015 campaign.

"Steven was too good of a talent not to do something, and running didn't seem to hurt his foot," Gateley said. "So he ended up running on all of our relays. He anchored the relays, which says a lot. A kid who's 14 years old on a big stage, carrying a baton last."

Migut slid seamlessly into the role. Unity's 800 relay placed first while its 400 group took second, with Migut part of both foursomes.

So Migut quickly learned how to succeed at the state level in high school track. But he garnered an equally important lesson from that historic season: how to act like a winner.

"Those seniors that year ... really taught me the mentality of, 'Hey, we're good, everybody knows we're good and we're going to act like we're good,'" Migut said. "It added a swagger to my athletic ability."An important distinction needs to be made here, though, and it's one that allowed Migut to stay on a path toward his eventual state hurdling title last month.

Confidence did not translate into cockiness for Migut. He couldn't afford to be, following in the footsteps of sprint-specialist teammates Jayden Kaiser and Cameron Reifsteck, as well as 110 hurdles champion Aaron Luesse.

"It's pretty easy to be humble when all your other teammates are just as good at their particular forte," Gateley said. "We want to be at a state contender (level) every year, and it's just a mindset that our kids have."

 

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Speaking of Luesse, his influence on Migut cannot be overstated.

Certainly the tutelage Luesse provided Migut when it came to hurdling. But perhaps even more critical was a connection Migut made as Luesse's teammate.

Luesse trained under Gary Spezia, an independent coach who has advised some of this century's best local prep hurdlers. As Luesse graduated and Migut prepped for his sophomore track season, the younger Rocket began working with Spezia.

"He had speed and was strong and liked to run the hurdles, and he liked to compete," Spezia said of Migut. "I thought he was a really coachable young man. He was on everything I asked him to do."

Migut admitted he didn't really have a hurdling coach during his junior high years. Spezia's guidance, combined with the ability of a kid who previously excelled in the IESA ranks, could lead to big things.

It didn't take long for that to come true. Migut's 2016 state meet included a third-place finish in the 110 hurdles and a sixth-place result in the 300 hurdles. The next year, he flipped those outcomes.

This was all the more impressive considering much of Migut's spare time was consumed by football-related workouts in addition to being a basketball player in the winter. But he always managed to meet with Spezia and keep up with hurdling.

"We got together a lot on Sundays, and he was there all the time," Spezia said. "He put in the extra time."

On the flip side, Migut has plenty of praise for Spezia's coaching.

"He's the reason that I'm a state champion today," Migut said. "I 100 percent put all of my success on Gary."

 

***

Let's replay this year's 300 hurdles final for Migut.

It was a hot, steamy Saturday afternoon in Charleston. Migut came in as the time-based favorite after Freeport senior Deion McShane, the reigning state champion, suffered an injury during Friday's preliminaries.

Migut already had run the 400 relay and 110 hurdles, breaking Luesse's program record in the latter event at 14.19 seconds.

Those watching live will never forget how ominously Migut's 300 run began. He smashed through the first hurdle, immediately slipping behind his foes.

"I still don't know to this day how I won that race," Migut said.

"I'm not sure the race would've played out the same way if he wouldn't have hit that first hurdle," Striegel added. "It almost would've been too easy."

Maybe Striegel is right. After all, Migut made up for lost time and sped past the field for a win in 38.20 seconds.

Maybe Migut was destined to win this event and cap his prep career off in style.

"That was a fitness race and a guts race, and that's what Migut brought," Spezia said. "He was like a quarterback running the option, coming around the edge and he's hit one or two yards out, and he fought through it."

When asked if he was surprised to see Migut cross the finish line first that day despite crushing his opening hurdle, Gateley didn't hesitate.

"Can I believe it? Yeah, because I've seen Steven literally blow up some hurdles in the past," Gateley said. "(Before the race) he goes, 'Coach, I've always just wanted to win one.' And I said, 'Hey, you've got one shot.' It was the best ending to a kid's career."

Migut now will leave the track behind as he heads to West Point for a college football career. But everything Migut has learned and accomplished in his spring sport will never leave him.

"I have the mentality that I can beat anybody out there. You just have to work for it," Migut said. "And (my coaches) definitely had me working my tail off for the last four years, and it's paying off."

Honor Roll: News-Gazette Athletes of the Year
YEAR    NAME    SCHOOL

2018    Steven Migut    Unity
2017    Nicholas Jackson    Champaign Central
2016    Jon Davis    Oakwood
2015    Jon Davis    Oakwood
2014    Johnny Leverenz    Danville
2013    Ryan Pearce    Villa Grove
2012    Steve Schroeder    Monticello
2011    Brandon Carrel    Urbana
2010    Brandon Noe    St. Thomas More
2009    Ian Wells    Champaign Central
2008    Tyler Carter    Tuscola
2007    Aaron Mathis    Urbana
2006    Scott Phelps    Monticello
2005    Scott Phelps    Monticello

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