Iowa State Gets Bluechip Half-Miler Darius Kipyego

Darius Kipyego had a feeling, and that's not unusual.

Like most everyone who is destined for college, there are those "feel-it-in-your-soul" moments that ultimately place perspective on where you want to spend the next four years of your life. 

But Kipyego's was special in that he's never even been to the state where he's going to call home.

And yet, when the St. Raphael Academy senior, who is No. 3 on MileSplit's list of top recruits in the Class of 2021, made his decision final on Thursday, signing with Iowa State University, he was completely at peace with it. He didn't have a doubt. 

"I just prayed about it," said Kipyego, who will look to major in Iowa State's engineering program. "One day I had a feeling. This is the place. Coach (Jeremy) Sunbury, Iowa State, I see a lot of resemblance in the coaches there and what I have now. I felt a connection." 

The Cylcones certainly register on the championship-contender scale. In 2019, Iowa State saw junior Festus Lagat finish third overall in the NCAA 800m final with a time of 1:45.05. The time was an outdoor program record. 

Kipyego hopes his trajectory is along that path. The Rhode Islander owns personal outdoor bests of 1:48.82 and comparative performances of 1:49.46 and 1:49.98. He won silver in 2019 for Team USA at the Pan American U20 Championships in Costa Rica, and finished the year with the third-fastest 800m sophomore performance of all-time.

* Kipyego, John Lester and Cruz Culpepper lined up for a big-time 800m in June

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But Kipyego also has potential beyond his favorite distance. He's run 49.34 seconds for 400m and 4:12.16 for 1,600m. Indoors, he holds top times of 1:19.65 fo 600m, 1:52.55 for 800m, 2:32.70 and 4:05.37 for 1,500m. He owns Rhode Island's indoor and outdoor records in the 800m. And he even runs cross country -- and this past week won his second straight RIIL Class C championship in 16:16.32. 

Before choosing Iowa State, Kipyego also considered Penn State, Southern California and Texas A&M.

Kipyego still has one more season left to break 1:48. 

He says he's going to try everything in his power to make that happen. In the process, that effort might see him travel to where races may happen, and against the nation's top returning 800m runner in John Lester -- the Californian exploded in 2020, running a US No. 1 time of 1:48.26; Kipyego was US No. 3, and his performances all together were almost identical. 

Beyond high school, Kipyego says his goals are working toward becoming a great half-miler. So his decision to attend Iowa State, he said, was a calculated one.

"My ultimate goal," he said, 'I want to be at that next level. I want a coach who can take me to those places. I have big goals and big dreams. I want to succeed." 

Not surprisingly, Kipyego is reminded of his experience at the Pan American U20 Championships often. 

"I have the American flag right above my bed," he said. "I always think about it before I go to bed. I want to almost relive taht, representing Team USA. It's just one of a kind and it's amazing to represent the best country in the world. I want to be a part of that again." 

Iowa State's last NCAA 800m champion was Edward Kemboi in 2015. The Cyclone won both the indoor and outdoor titles and ran a program record of 1:45.98 indoors. Lagat surpassed his outdoor mark in 2019.

* After finished second overall at the 2019 Pan American U20 Championships

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Kipyego won't come into the program with any guarantees, though. Even his best times in the 800m outdoors are just a shade off the Iowa State top 10 record books. 

But that's also fine with him. 

"I know it's going to be a whole different atmosphere," he said. "It's going to be great to train with other guys just like him. When I get on campus, I really want to trust the process.

"These guys are great coaches for a reason. ...I don't expect to pull a Donovan Brazier and go from 1:48 to 1:43 right away; it will be a process and a lot will be different from high school to college. But it will help training with all of those guys." 

And that feeling? 

Kipyego didn't just lean on his prayers. He felt a strong connection with his future team, too. 

"I had a Zoom call with the guys one night," he said. "You could just tell. We were just talking, it wasn't an awkward thing. It was a full conversation. Even then, I felt like I was part of the team."

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