* Hobbs Kessler is Gatorade's 2021 National Player of the Year in Track and Field
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
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"He took the time to work with some 18-minute nobody high schooler. It ended up paying off. But I think it's super cool how far you can come in just a few years." -- Hobbs Kessler of his coach Ron Warhurst
Precisely two weeks ago, Hobbs Kessler was feeling a little nostalgic.
Having completed the end of his absolutely blitz of a year, which culminated at the U.S. Olympic Trials and included two high school national records across the indoor and outdoor campaigns, the Ann Arbor, Michigan native wanted to give an authentic view of just how far he'd come in a few years time.
He posted two videos himself: The first dated back to 2018, rough four years ago on the University of Michigan track, amid some form drills; the second, sometime taken across the last few weeks, was of Kessler operating within that same drill, only with rapid precision.
In that same video, Kessler's coach, Ron Warhurst, could be seen around the corner emphasizing his arm carry.
The point? Form is important. But also: What a difference four years makes.
On Wednesday, Kessler was named Gatorade's National Player of the Year for the spring track and field season. On July 1, Kessler was also named our MileSplit50 Athlete of the Year for the spring season.
He's the second straight Northern Arizona signee to win the award -- though Kessler has turned pro and will likely not run for the Lumberjacks in the NCAA -- and follows Nico Young, who became the first two-time male winner last year of the National award.
"I think that has a great message for people," Kessler said of that video. "And I think it speaks to Ron. I wasn't anyone then. I was on a cross country team with his son Luke. My dad was just like, 'Can you work with him a little bit with his form?' And he was a very active member of the running community in Ann Arbor. He agreed.
"He took the time to work with some 18-minute nobody high schooler. It ended up paying off. But I think it's super cool how far you can come in just a few years."
If you followed high school track and field in 2021, you were introduced to the name Hobbs Kessler.
A relative unknown a few years ago, with modest personal bests, Kessler exploded in his senior campaign first with a national indoor record mile and then continued with a truly inspiring spring season that saw him finish with an American U20 record in the 1,500m in 3:34.36.
That performance surpassed the 20-year-old mark formerly held by Alan Webb, and it was eerily reminiscent of the nascent golden age of boys distance running when Jim Ryun shot up to stardom in the 60s.
Kessler reached the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1,500m and eventually made the semifinals, running smartly across each heat -- he ultimately ran two impressive races, finishing in 3:45.50 and 3:45.63 across the heats.
* Kessler in the 800m at the MHSAA Division I State Championships
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But his season was hardly just a one-event focus.
He dropped the fourth-fastest 2-mile of all-time in March in 8:39.04 and then won two Michigan State Division I state championships in May, covering 800m in 1:54.13 and 1,600m in 4:16.68 -- of course, doing enough to win in both of those scenarios.
He also split 1:47 on the 800m in Ann Arbor Skyline's state runner-up in the 4x800, nearly winning it all on the final anchor leg. His season PR for 3,200m was 8:54.42 and in the 800m it was 1:49.67.
Which is all to say, Kessler did about everything you could have asked a high school superstar to accomplish in his final year on the track.
But when asked what meant the most to him over his career, Kessler was pretty clear in saying it was all about his time with the team.
"I would say the things that are burning most into my brain most, just like, I would say freshman year just stretching at the track and hanging out with everyone," he said. "It's one fo those things I'm most nostalgic about. Even being at the school (today). I was pretty nostalgic about this morning.
"It's never the running stuff. It's always after a big workout, like hanging out and going to get ice cream after a big workout with the guys."
One of Kessler's oddest moments, he said, was waiting inside the Arkansas indoor facility following his indoor national record mile. Kessler ran 3:57.66. He was required to be drug tested.
"Just hanging out in the empty track waiting to get drug tested. It was crazy because it was me trying to wrap my head around it," he said. "My dad (Michael) and Ron were just on the phone the whole time talking to people. I was kind of just sitting there and thinking about stuff."
Then, his most exciting moment came in June: Kessler watched as his teammate Mason Ferlic, 27, made an Olympic team.
"It was one of the most fun things I've done," he said of Ferlic, who qualified for the Olympic team in the steeplechase. "I saw how much work he put in. The whole process, to see it pay off from him was awesome."
All things considered, even with newly-made professional contacts and the newly-signed professional contract with adidas, Kessler still remains a pretty normal teenager.
He still plans to attend NAU in the fall. His freshman roommate will be Anchorage Christian's Tristian Merchant.
"He complements me well," Kessler said of Merchant. "He's relaxed and chill. I'm always buzzing around. I think we'll be a good pair."
Kessler will arrived in Flagstaff in mid-March after spending some time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains long-route climbing with one of his best friends.
"We're doing multi-pitch climbing," he said. "Long routes. About 500 to 2,000 feet of climbing. So for us it'll take the whole day."
From there, perhaps there's a small shot in the dark that Kessler could run at NAU with the new Name Image Likeness (NIL) NCAA ruling. Even with a pro contract, there's a chance.
But when asked, Kessler said he hasn't explored that option. He'll let that for others to figure out.
He's content at this point with the road planned for him. If anything, he said, it would only make sense in the fall -- if that were a possibility.
"I would say if it were a likelihood, it would be to only run cross country and probably the DMR," Kessler said. "I'm not super worried about it, because I'm really happy where I'm at right now. We found a good path for me.
"I'm not super worried about trying to make that work. I'm not sure if it would work with my contract (anyway). But I haven't explored it."
Regardless of what happens in that situation, Kessler will be in Flagstaff for the next six months. He's planning a strength-training block until December before he ships back to Ann Arbor and starts working toward the new track season.
By March, Kessler will turn 19 and will yet again steer toward another stage in his career before hitting 20. Could he qualify for a World Championships?
That's still to be determined. But either way, the last moment of his high school career was well earned.
"It's pretty cool," Kessler said. "There are a lot of really good runners. A lot of people I think are better deserving of it. So it feels pretty cool to be selected and it feels great to be recognized and see my name next to my fellow Lumberjack Nico. It's cool to be up there."
Gatorade National AOY Winners Since 2000:
- 2020: Nico Young
- 2019: Matthew Boling
- 2018: Anthony Schwartz
- 2017: Mondo Duplantis
- 2016: Michael Norman
- 2015: Michael Norman
- 2014: Trentavis Friday
- 2013: Trayvon Bromell
- 2012: Abraham Hall
- 2011: Gunnar Nixon
- 2010: Sam Crouser
- 2009: Curtis Beach
- 2008: German Fernandez
- 2007: Bryshon Nellum
- 2006: David Klech
- 2005: Ryan Whiting
- 2004: Jason Richardson
- 2003: Kerron Clement
- 2002: Brendan Christian
- 2001: Alan Webb
- 2000: Donald Sage Jr.
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