Michael Koger seems like your typical college student. He loves sneakers, stays up late at night and every now and then can be seen eating a cinnamon twist donut. This is normal for college students, except he’s not your typical Highlander.
This year, he broke his own school record in the 400 meter hurdles with a time of 51.20 and is currently the fastest hurdler in the Big West.
When asked about reaching this milestone, he responded without complacency. He knew that he was going to do well this year, but the record means nothing unless he makes it to the NCAA Championships.
“The record was mine in the first place,” Koger said. “It wasn’t as emotional as the first time I broke it because it had been up since 1994.”
That’s the type of response you would hear from someone who does these types of things regularly. He doesn’t carry an intimidating stature, yet he has an aura of confidence that can make him appear larger.
“I want to work in probation or the (Los Angeles Police Department),” Koger said. “I want to have a job where I’m actually doing something. I’ve been active for so long. I want to help people.
The Big West Championships wrapped up this weekend but his preparation remained the same.
“Mentally I try not to do anything different,” he said. “Let’s say I go to bed at one in the morning, I’m not going to go to bed at 10. I like to keep everything pretty similar.”
Currently in his fifth year of competing at the Division I level, Koger seems to knows what works for him. He’s the 2015 Big West 400 hurdles champion, and has a higher goal of running the 400 hurdles in 50 seconds flat.
To many outsiders, the sport of track and field may seem simple and almost outdated. What they don’t realize is how difficult these events can be for student athletes. In this case, the 400 hurdles isn’t just about running.
“It’s sprinting a lap at full speed, with little barriers in your way,” Koger said.
Except those “little” barriers are three feet high and the field includes some of the fastest runners in the nation. It’s an event that requires explosiveness, endurance, rhythm and control. Let’s just say it’s easy for a 400 hurdler to run the 400, but not the other way around.
Within the hurdling world, some runners stand out more than others. Kevin Young shattered the world record in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics, a race Koger views many times for inspiration. Another runner Koger likes to imitate is 31-year-old U.S. national team runner Michael Tinsley. Tinsley placed silver in both the 2012 London Olympics and the 2013 Moscow World Championships.
“He’s not a big dude, but he’s strong and fast,” Koger said.
Koger has even met the very decorated Kerron Clement, who won Olympic gold in 2008 and world championship titles in 2007 and 2009 for the 400 hurdles.
Yet when asked who his heroes outside of track are, Koger answered without hesitation.
“I would have to say my parents,” Koger said. “To see the stuff that they’ve done in life and the accomplishments they’ve made, I do it for them.”
Even if they knew little of the sport, they supported him along the way in ways the public eye couldn’t see.
On the track, Assistant Coach Daniel Newell kept him in check but also collaborated and worked with him. This relationship was something Koger was not used to but has greatly appreciated. Associate Head Coach Nathan Browne is also quick to tell him what he needs to hear.
At the end of the season, Koger doesn’t plan to hang up his spikes for good.
“I’m gonna continue running for at least two years and see where that goes,” Koger said. “Especially the way the season is going, if I accomplish the goals I want to accomplish, I want to keep going.”