The Rutgers men’s track and field team will have five athletes compete at the NCAA Championships this week beginning Wednesday, June 6th in Eugene, Oregon at historic Hayward Field. National title hopes and first team All-American status is within reach for all of the Scarlet Knights competing this week in the biggest meet in college track and field.
Our own Jim Hoffman spoke with the defending national champion in the Hammer Throw, Rudy Winkler, in this detailed interview here. Winkler won the NCAA title last season at Cornell and hopes to repeat this week representing Rutgers. He previously shattered the school record and Big Ten record at the conference championship meet last month with a throw of 73.85 (242’ 3”).
On the track, Rutgers has athletes competing in three events. Their 4X400 relay team comprised of two-time Big Ten Indoor 400m champion Izaiah Brown, one-time Indoor All-American Jermaine Griffith, as well as promising freshmen Boaz Madeus and Taj Burgess, bring high hopes with them to the NCAA Championships. The foursome set a new school record of 3:04.67 at the Penn Relays in late April, which was the first meet they ever actually ran as a team. They followed that up with a second place finish and Silver Medal at last month’s Big Ten Championships.
I spoke with Madeus about how the past experiences at those high profile meets helps the relay team at this week’s NCAA Championships and he was clear their goal is to make a statement in a big way. “It was nice to get some experience under my belt at some big meets like those were. We had never put our “A” relay team together up until the Penn Relays and we were finally able to put it all together at that meet. We smashed the school record the first time that I, Taj, Griff, and Izaiah got together, which was a huge confidence booster,” Madeus said. “Going into the Big Ten, we knew where we were at conditioning wise. We just wanted to go in as a team and continue to make our presence known. It’s nice to know that people are finally starting to take notice with where we are at as a team and where we are headed because of the noise we have been making on big stages. I hope we can finish it off with a big bang at the NCAA’s and let everyone in the country know that we are here and we are coming.”
In addition, Madeus will compete in the 400m hurdles and Burgess will compete in the 400m individual event.
Madeus said of his freshman campaign, in which he set personal-best time of 50.79 in the 400m hurdles at the NCAA East Regional qualifier, “It has definitely been a huge learning experience in trying to stay patient during the whole year.” He continued, “There were times where it was frustrating when certain races, even in the outdoor season, didn’t go as well as I wanted it to. It was about staying patient and focusing on all the plans that my coach laid out for me. Seeing it play out has been a huge confidence booster and I’m really excited for next season knowing what I know now. Knowing to trust the plan and do what they tell me and I’ll be fine.”
Burgess spoke about how the Indoor season helped him prepare for his breakout spring, in which he finished in second place and won the Silver Medal in the 400m at the Big Ten Championships last month. “Indoor gave me a feel for the competition, which is much greater than in high school. It gave me insight into how different people run and knowing how to learn to run my race and execute against more experienced runners.”
In terms of the biggest adjustment, the two freshman differed in what their biggest adjustments have been in their debut collegiate seasons. Madeus felt “The mental aspects has definitely been huge in college, everything we run is competitive. It’s been an adjustment going into every meet knowing you are going against the top guys and you have to compete or you are going to be left behind.” Burgess felt the opposite, saying “The physical part. I’ve never had a problem I getting intimidated or nervous before a race. I’ve never really had that issue because I was always ready and prepared to give it my all at anytime. Physically, it was a big adjustment because my competition now is running a whole lot faster and stronger. I’ve started working harder to be able to rise to that level and do better as the season has gone on.”
In asking Madeus how is he preparing for this week’s 400m hurdles at the NCAA’s, he had confidence in the hard work he has put in all year. “It’s been going well in my preparation. I’ve been working with coach Mulqueen a lot on my step pattern and just sharpening at this point,” Madeus said. “All the heavy work has been done up to this point, so there is nothing more that I can do in a workout that is going to help me drop my time over two seconds or something crazy. If I’m not in shape at this point than that would be a problem. All the work has been done and it’s about keeping my steps sharp. I definitely feel good going into NCAA’s with fresh legs and a good mindset going in.”
I asked Burgess what he has learned from his teammates Brown and Griffith, both of whom have accomplished a lot in the 400m individual event in their careers at Rutgers. He spoke about how their different styles have given him perspective in his own way of running his race, commenting “I’ve learned a lot because they are two different types of runners. Izaiah goes all out his entire race and still able to hold on. Jermaine is more of a guy who will get out and hold it, and ramp up with a really strong finish. In talking to them, there is more than one way to run your race, you just have to find out what is comfortable for you. I just learned from what they do and their experiences and apply it to my own running.”
When I asked Burgess how he would describe his own running style, the dynamic freshman said, “I’m more of a mixture, as I like to get out really quick, hold my race but with a little more speed and from there try to run as fast as I can running through the home stretch of my race.”
In terms of which event Burgess prefers, the 400m individual or 4x400m team relay, he spoke about the difference between the two. He said, “It’s a lot different. With the 400m individual, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the race because its just me. Whatever is going to happen, I have to make sure I’m on top of my game. When it’s a relay with my team, I’m actually watching the progress of each leg being run. If we are behind, I know what I have to do. If we are ahead, I know I have to hold my race and run as if I am chasing someone. I have options in how to run my race a certain way.”
Burgess, who runs the anchor leg, didn’t shy away from what the team’s expectations are for the 4X400 relay at the NCAA Championships, “We have a lot to prove going to the NCAA’s. First to make a name for ourselves and our school,” Burgess said. “We’ve been working hard this season and stepping up our game to make sure we are on top. We like to hear our school’s name called out at a meet. We are going there with a lot of confidence this weekend and want to at least become 1st Team All-Americans with the relay.”
As for his own goals in the 400m individual race, Burgess said “I know there are a lot of dudes from both the east and west coast that have some really high times right now. I’m going to try my best to run faster and become one of the fastest guys in the country.”
With two proven runners on the relay team, along with two confident and talented freshmen, Rutgers has a chance to certainly make a statement this weekend in multiple events at the NCAA Championships. And with Winkler in the Hammer Throw, an individual national championship is definitely a strong possibility as well.
How To Watch
All five Rutgers athletes will compete on Wednesday, June 6th.
Winkler will compete in the Hammer Throw Final at 5:00 p.m. ET Wednesday and the live stream for his event on ESPN3 is here.
Burgess will compete in the 400m semifinals at 9:00 p.m. ET and Madeus will compete in the 400m hurdles semifinals at 9:30 p.m. ET. The 4X400 relay team of Burgess, Madeus, Griffith, and Brown will compete in the semifinals at 10:48 p.m. ET. All three events will be shown on ESPN2, which will begin it’s live broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET. If any of them advance, the Finals for all three events will take place on Friday evening and we will have a full preview beforehand.