The tale of Ryan Waite includes a connection to Jimmer Fredette's mono, Waite's rejection of a Pac-10 scholarship and the fact he was supposed to sit out this year. Yet he has emerged as the No. 2 ranked 800-meter collegiate runner in the West.
Mix in the script that BYU track coaches, always on the lookout for Mormon talent, overlooked this former student body vice president and prep All-American out of high school. Waite, who ran for Oregon as a freshman, was a missionary in San Fernando, Calif., this time last year, not running at all, just playing a little basketball on his preparation day.
Sounds like a lot to weave together, but that's the Ryan Waite story.
In the Smith Fieldhouse, BYU has Top 10 lists of all-time track athletes separated by event. Names are added and removed as superior performances are posted through time.
The placard with the name of Ken Barton is now resting on the desk of two-time Olympian and current BYU distance coach Ed Eyestone. Barton and Eyestone were teammates at BYU 26 years ago, and Barton's name had been on the Top 10 list as one of the best 800-meter athletes in school history.
Eyestone picks up the placard, looks at it with respect, then gently places it on a pile of papers on his desk.
Barton's name just got bumped to make way for Ryan Waite, who has only been on campus seven months.
An LDS missionary just last September, NCAA rules restricted Waite from working out formally with BYU's team and coaches last fall after arriving in Provo. He redshirted during the indoor track season this winter once he could join the team.
But when BYU's indoor 800 man, Justin Hedin, a roommate to hoop star Fredette, found himself battling mononucleosis throughout the winter like Fredette, coaches approached Waite about not redshirting in the outdoor season.
He ran a couple of 1:50s, which was satisfactory, but on May 1, running unattached at Stanford, Waite delivered a stunner.
Waite posted a personal-best 1:47.54, the fourth-best 800 time in BYU history and the lowest clocking by a Cougar in nine years. Only UC Irvine's Jock Charles (1:47.46) had posted a better Western Region collegiate time this outdoor season (March 27, Cal/Nevada Collegiate Championships). Waite's time ranks No. 4 in the NCAA so far.
"What it did is give me a confidence boost," said Waite.
"He is a young man with unlimited potential," said BYU track coach Mark Robison. According to Eyestone, "he has the chance to be as good as anyone we've had."
Waite is the favorite to win the MWC 800-meter title next week in Albuquerque and could challenge for the NCAA's top prize.
"I want to win a national title," said Waite, "And I've got six seasons to do it in cross country, indoor and outdoor track."
Waite's personal record last Saturday would make him the Pac-10's No. 1 800 man, an event in which 12 of the top 17 times this outdoor season have been posted by Pac-10 athletes in the West Region.
Then there's the Pac-10.
Waite is thankful he left the University of Oregon, his childhood dream team near his home where he grew up with posters of Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar and the entire University of Oregon track shrine idea.
Waite signed with the Ducks out of St. Helens High, where he was a three-time state champion. BYU coaches were not aware he was LDS and never put on a recruiting rush.
"It was a dream come true to go to Oregon," said Waite.
But shortly after arriving in Eugene, Waite realized he did not fit in. He admits he was immature and struggled emotionally and spiritually. By the end of the year, he was exhausted and worn down.
"I try to keep certain standards and a lifestyle that is different than many others at Oregon and, a times, I didn't get much support," Waite said. "I struggled, it was hard, and I didn't feel comfortable."
In high school, his coach used to say, "Lets' go play track," and it was fun. At Oregon, track and his school life were not fun.
Waite left for his mission not knowing if he'd return to Oregon. On his mission, he talked to another missionary who ran track at BYU.
"He never recruited me or anything, but I started asking him questions about the program and coaches. The more I learned, I liked," said Waite.
Before long, he inquired about transferring from Oregon into the Cougars' camp.
"It was the best decision I could make. This is even better than I thought it would be," Waite said.
He calls Eyestone "the best coach in the NCAA" and a man who perfectly matches his personality.
Waite admits it was tough this fall to train after his mission ended in late September.
"I had to train by myself, I couldn't work out with the team. I had nobody to run with and push me," he said. "Coach Eyestone could give me advice and a list, but he couldn't supervise my training until January."
That's what makes Waite's time at Stanford so remarkable.
"Guys off missions, with the restrictions he had in the fall, aren't supposed to do this well; they usually struggle. But it speaks to his talent," said Robison.
"He has very good leg speed, but not tremendous leg speed," said Eyestone. "But his strength is his strength, and he can finish strong. He runs a 48-second 400 meters, and many of the elite 800-meter runners run a 47 seconds.
"But he is very focused and goal oriented. To show how determined he is, he ran 1:50.00 and set a goal of running 1:47. In a very short time, he did exactly that, cutting 2.5 seconds off of his 800 time. That shows the power of being positive and setting goals, accepting the system, coaching and his work ethic."
Today, Waite gears up for workouts with a smile on his face. He goes out and plays track.
"It's come back to me again," he says.
It certainly has.
Top Ten BYU 800 Men
Name Year Time
1. Agberto Guimaraes 1980 1:46.50
2. Mao Tjiroze 2001 1:47.28
3. Alan Schultz 1975 1:47.3
4. Ryan Waite 2010 1:47.54
5. Steve Bergeson 1969 1:47.7
6. Russ Muir 1989 1:47.99
7. Jason Pyrah 1992 1:48.044 comments on this story
8. Zenas Moreno 1978 1:48.7
9. Chad Simkins 2003 1:48.74
10. Devoe Whatley 1987 1:48.84