Kansas Wesleyan's Damion Jackson was fading fast during his race in the NAIA Men's National Cross Country Championship on Friday.
He wasn't too concerned, though ... until he heard his coach Garrett Young inform him go-time had arrived.
"I was telling myself I'm fine with where I'm at," Jackson said. "But then I heard coach yelling at me that I was fading and that jarred me and made me realize 'why give up when I can do this?'"
And 'do this' he did. Jackson shifted into fifth gear and surged past several runners down the stretch and crossed the finish line in 37th place. His late burst earned him All-America honors and helped propel KWU to a school-record 14th-place finish in the team standings.
The event featured 328 runners and 36 teams.
Jackson completed the notoriously difficult Fort Vancouver National Historic Championship Course in 23 minutes, 38.4 seconds and was a fitting end to his wildly successful first college season.
Jackson said Young's encouragement was what he needed when he needed it.
"I started pushing again and that's when I was going up the hill and towards the finish," he said. "I started catching everyone again."
"The last 1,000 meters or so we knew he needed to go pick off (pass) four or five guys and I think he got eight or nine out of it," Young said. "Just an incredible way to cap off an incredible freshman season.
"Damion Jackson is a name that I think people in the NAIA need to be aware of for years to come."
Jackson said the battle was as much mental as it was physical once the race started and the chaotic, tightly packed field of runners began to thin out.
"It's basically what you tell yourself," he said. "If you say you won't be able to go get those guys then you won't do it."
Jackson was quick to credit his teammates for his success.
"It was a team effort," he said. "I don't think I could do what I did without having them there to push me along. … Shane (Calvin) was right next to me for a lot of it so having him there to pull me along was a lot of help."
Calvin just missed All-America honors, placing 44th (top 40 are designated All-Americans) in 25:46.8. He finished 193rd in the 2022 NAIA meet in Tallahassee, Fla.
"I can't praise Shane enough for his continued determination and grittiness and focus and just being able to always perform at the highest level for us," Young said. "I don't think there was any part of his preparation that was lackluster or we thought could have been better."
Austin Hess finished 122nd (26:27.3) – he was 196th in 2022. Jake Cruz placed 155th (26:38.1) Friday and Carter Huyser 186th (26:57.1) to round out KWU's scoring.
"Austin had a very gutsy race, a great run by the senior," Young said. "Jay Cruz had not looked like himself for a while then comes out and runs one of the gutsiest and toughest races of his Kansas Wesleyan career. And Carter Huyser had a great finish as a grad senior and is a very accomplished cross country runner."
Giovanni Rios was 214th (27:08.1) and Julian Avila 263rd (27:45.9) for KWU.
"Their mindsets and attitudes going into the race was very high, very performance focused and it was fun to see them get the gratification of the reward for their hard work and mindsets."
Three Coyotes competed in the NAIA women's 6-kilometer race. Madisyn Ehrlich finished 101st (23:36.1) – a whopping 158 spots higher than she finished as a freshman in 2022. Josie Koppes was 131st (23:55.3) Friday and Charlee Lind 209th (24:32.1).
"All three of them were very patient but were strong and were determined," Young said. "All three were very close to their PRs (personal records) on one of the most difficult courses there is. They all had huge efforts."