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The Orion

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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Wildcat of the Year nominee: J Patrick Smith

J Patrick Smith, third from left, competes alongside Olympic medalist Ashton Eaton in March 2014. Photo courtesy of Kevin Brunk

J Patrick Smith set a new standard of excellence for the men’s track and field program that has won 11 consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Association championships. The Santa Barbara native and Dos Pueblos High School star graduated in May with a degree in nutrition and food science. For his senior season in which he garnered numerous accolades and for his feats in post-collegiate competition, Smith has been nominated for one more distinction: The Orion Sports Wildcat of the Year.

Here is how Smith’s senior year played out:

  • Named the NCAA Division II National Champion in the decathlon for the third consecutive year, with a Chico State record of 7,645 points.
  • Earned his fourth career All-American recognition with an eighth place finish in the long jump.
  • Awarded West Region Field Athlete of the Year honors by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association for the second straight year.
  • Finished sixth overall at USA Track and Field Nationals in June.
  • Represented the USA in the Thorpe Cup against Germany in July.
  • Named Chico Enterprise-Record Sportsperson of the Year.
  • Named CCAA Co-Field Athlete of the Year.
  • Named CCAA Male Athlete of the Year.
  • Named Chico State Male Athlete of the Year.
  • Ranks among the top 10 in Chico State history for the 100-meter, 110-meter hurdles and long jump.

Smith’s collegiate years may be over, but that does not mean his aspirations for a professional decathlon career are.

In early April, he competed against the top decathlete in the world, USA gold medalist Ashton Eaton. At the Sam Adams Combined Events Invitational, Smith lined up right next to Eaton for the 100-meter.

Smith said running alongside the world’s best as simply “awesome.”

Smith did not win that race, but he won the meet, which qualified him for a competition in Oyonnax, France in early June.

“It was the first time I experienced another culture,” Smith said. “I stayed with a family that was connected to the track club in France via their two sons and was welcomed with open arms.”

Later that month, Smith participated in the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Sacramento. He went up against another decorated American decathlete and Olympian, Trey Hardee.

“I’ve had tracks of him on my iPod for motivation for years,” Smith said. “Competing against him in the flesh made him human in my mind.”

Smith’s sixth-place finish in Sacramento qualified him to officially join Team USA and represent the country at the Thorpe Cup, an annual decathlon event between the U.S. and Germany.

“It was an incredible experience, being able to have people view you as a representative for your country,” said Smith of his time in Marburg, Germany.

His time in Germany did not end well, however. Smith suffered from a torn anterior cruciate ligamen in the hurdles, his 109th event of competition in 2014. Smith was told at the time that his knee was structurally stable, so he continued competing anyway. He will sit out his 2015 season.

Despite sustaining such a serious injury, Smith still dreams of making a career out of what he does best.

“I would love nothing more than to pursue a career in the decathlon,” Smith said. “If it is physically and financially possible for me to do so, I will.”

Smith did not have any scholarship offers out of high school. He chose Chico State for family reasons: his grandparents live in town, as well as his aunt and uncle. He also knew the Wildcats had a decathlon program.

Prior to becoming the national champion for the first time in 2012, he doubted whether he could stand above the rest, Smith said.

“I never truly believed that I could or would win a national title,” Smith said. “I knew I could compete at nationals and be an All-American eventually, but never win.”

In 2012 and 2013, Smith won his first two national titles while being seeded fourth in the field both years. In 2014, he entered as the favorite and stayed on top. Many athletes in Smith’s position could have taken their foot off the gas pedal and gone into cruise control, but not this ‘Cat.

“I needed to hold on to that third win, for myself,” Smith said. “I had to prove to myself that I was capable. That the hours spent in my room stretching, rolling, rehabbing and doing core paid off. That regardless, year after year my competitors didn’t believe I could end on top. I remember hugging my family afterward thinking that all the stress and pressure I put on myself was gone. It was all over and finished and I had succeeded.”

Smith cited his parents and coaches for helping him succeed so much over his Chico State career.

“My dad told me my freshmen year, ‘By the end of the year, you will be the best decathlete the school has ever had,’ which I wasn’t, but by my second year I was,” Smith said.

“(Men’s track and field head coach) Oliver Hanf taught me many things over the past five years on and off the track,” he said. “I attribute him for lots of my personal growth.”

“JP was the best decathlete that I ever coached and perhaps the best track and field athlete we have had at this university,” Hanf said.

Together with fellow seniors John Brunk, Teddy Elsenbaumer and Adam Nikssarian, along with four freshmen, Smith steered the Wildcats to the Webb Cup title, an honor bestowed upon the best decathlon program nationwide. The Wildcats outscored top Division I programs like University of Oregon and University of Texas.

“JP was a diligent competitor right from the start,” Hanf said. “He always considered himself an underdog and thrived in that situation. One difference (from 2014) was the fact that he was the definite favorite to win the national title. This was new territory for him. He handled it as well as I could have expected. The goals he set for himself personally were really impressive, but many of the goals he set were about the team. He is a huge reason we were able to win the last four (CCAA) team titles.”.

Nick Reddy can be reached at [email protected] or @NickIsReddy on Twitter.

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