When Matt Godfrey came out of Weber High School last year, not many schools were interested in his talents as a distance runner - never mind that he had pulled off a rare distance triple at the 4A state championship meet, winning the 800-, 1600- and 3,200-meter runs.
Only Weber State, the school he eventually chose, and a couple of the local universities came calling. Perhaps it was because Godfrey hadn't improved much during the previous couple of years or because his performances (4:21 for the mile), were nothing to raise a coach's pulse rate.Nevertheless, this year Godfrey has demonstrated that he has a bright future on the track. During the recent winter indoor season, he finished second in the Big Sky Conference championships mile run. Early in the outdoor season, shortly before being waylaid by an iron deficiency, he clocked 3:53.25 for 1,500 meters - the equivalent of a 4:10 mile, and some 11 seconds under his high school personal record.
"I expected Matt to improve and run well, but not 11 seconds," says Weber Coach Chick Hislop.
Godfrey is not the only Utah prep to surprise this year. Godfrey's teammate and friend, Guy Perry, who also attended Weber High last year, ran 9:09.39 in the second steeplechase competition of his life - a time that qualifies him for the junior national championships. In his third steeplechase race Godfrey won his first big collegiate invitational, the Bob Gibb meet in Boise.
"Right now Matt and Guy are both ahead of any freshmen I've ever had in the steeplechase or the mile, and they're chasing good people," says Weber coach Chick Hislop, who has coached nine All-Americans in the steeplechase alone, including national champion Farley Gerber.
Meanwhile, the University of Utah has its own promising Utah-reared freshman to brag about. Steve Sumsion - class of '88, Hillcrest High School - took second place in the Western Athletic Conference indoor championships in the 3,000-meter race this winter, setting a school record of 8:39.3. Although Sumsion's progress outdoors has been slowed considerably by illness, Utah coach Mike Jones says, "Steve has the potential to be one of the greatest to come out of the state."
Both Jones and Hislop must wait to see just how good their freshmen will be. Godfrey, Perry and Sumsion are all leaving on LDS Church missions next year. That means little or no running for two years.
In the meantime, Godfrey is anxious to make the most of the current season. "The last couple of races I haven't improved," he says. "I made a big jump this year. I don't want to stop."
Asked to explain his sudden drop this year, Godfrey says, "I'm no faster than last year. I'm just stronger."
This from someone who last year, at one major prep invitational, ran five races in two days - the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and trials and finals in the mile relay - and won all three individual races, producing marks of 9:26, 4:21, 1:59 and 52.
Despite his drastic improvement in the mile, both Godfrey and Hislop think Godfrey's days in the mile are limited because of his lack of basic speed. "I just know don't how much faster I can get," says Godfrey. "Those guys are really moving when they run sub-four." Godfrey plans eventually to focus on the steeplechase and 5,000.
Perry, who like Sumsion was a frequent victim of Godfrey's in high school, has 24-second 200-meter speed, but he lacks the strength that will come with added training mileage. So far his mile PR is a modest 4:16 (four seconds under his prep PR). That notwithstanding, Perry has come far. Before moving to Ogden last year from Elko, his PRs were only 4:41 for the mile and 10:18 for two miles. When he moved to Ogden, he found his best competition in a teammate. Perry finished second to Godfrey in the state 1,600 race, and third in the 3,200.
"I've really been running at a high level of competition for only two years," says Perry. "In Nevada (where he won three state titles as a junior) I competed in a small league." It has been only in the last two years that Perry has been running more than 30 miles a week, and he notes, "A distance base doesn't come instantly."
Sumsion knows what he means. In high school he ran 30 or 40 miles a week, tops, surviving mostly on track work. He never won a state title and set most of his PRs as a junior. Jones has convinced him to double his mileage and the early results have been surprising, particularly at the WAC meet.
"To tell you the truth, I was surprised," says Sumsion. "I thought I might place fifth or sixth."
Despite the bouts with illness and hay fever, Sumsion has run 15:10 for 5,000 meters and 4-flat for the 1,500 outdoors, but one suspects there is much more.
"Everything we do, he does an extra one," says Jones. "He's a hard worker."