IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with T&FN during the Olympic Trials, teen mile star Hobbs Kessler revealed he had signed a pro contract with adidas.
Admitting that it was a “super hard” decision, the Michigan prep, who in May destroyed the High School and American Junior records in the 1500 with a stunning 3:34.36 Olympic qualifying mark, signed a deal spanning the next two Summer Olympics.
The 18-year-old, who has represented Skyline High in Ann Arbor, will bypass NCAA competition. Last fall he had signed with Northern Arizona, one of the NCAA’s top powerhouse distance programs. As a professional he will be represented by Mark Wetmore of Global Athletics
Fans have talked about the possibility of Kessler’s turning pro since his indoor HSR of 3:57.66 in the mile, but he had been determined to join the Lumberjacks in the fall. Portland changed everything.
“The 3:34 was the turning point for all of this. I’m in a position now that I don’t know that I will be in later, so I’m jumping on the opportunity that I have now and riding my momentum forward,” Kessler says.
“Basically, I talked to everyone I trust and that my folks and a lot of people in the industry trust and I got a very similar answer from everybody, which was the time is now.
“It’s a bummer to miss out on the college/NCAA experience, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Now I’m in a good position. My name is hot and I have a really good setup here running-wise and this gives me the ability to stay with my support system.”
Kessler, whose 1500 PR is faster than the current Collegiate Record, added, “I have room to grow and to be competitive with the best in the world. Obviously, there’s the tactical side [in the 1500], but as a runner, I think I can hang.”
Missing a chance to run with the Lumberjacks, who have won 4 out of the last 5 NCAA titles in cross country under coach Mike Smith, was the toughest aspect of the decision.
“I’m still having a hard time with it because I really had this vision of me going there and being part of the team and that’s something I’m super sad to lose,” Kessler says. “I’m not going to have the experience of competing for national titles with those guys. I’m pretty disappointed about it.
“But I think I’ve got to be responsible and there’s also a lot of benefits to turning pro. My running journey is turning out a little different than I thought it would be, so it will take some time to adjust to that.”
Kessler hasn’t completely sacrificed the Flagstaff experience. He will be attending Northern Arizona in the fall and rooming with his would-have-been teammates. “I want to go to school there in the fall and get in a big strength phase [of training]. Then I probably wouldn’t do a spring semester.”
Former Michigan coach Ron Warhurst will continue to be his primary coach, training him in Ann Arbor in the spring and summer.
Kessler’s rapid emergence is the stuff of legend. With a 4:54.29 for 1600 as a 9th-grader, he improved to 4:18.26 as a junior before the pandemic shut the season down. That summer, he opened eyes with a 3200 time trial of 8:53.1 and later ran a 4:08.4 mile effort in an exercise where he paced Nick Willis and Mason Ferlic for 3-quarters in 3:02.7, swerved off, then finished anyway.
None of that prepared the world for his breaking the HSR for the indoor mile in a pro race in Fayetteville on February 07. Since then, he has balanced a full high school season in Michigan with occasional sorties out-of-state. A late-February attempt to hit the OT standard for the 1500 in Texas went awry when he got tripped, dusting himself off to finish last in 3:52.80.
On March 27 he ran 8:39.04 for 2M at the NSAF USA Meet of Champions in Myrtle Beach, becoming the No. 4 prep performer ever. Then in late April, he traveled to Eugene to run 3:40.46 at the USATF GP, moving to No. 3 in prep history after Alan Webb and Jim Ryun.
The target for Portland a month later was the Trials standard of 3:37.50, a mark faster than Webb’s HSR of 3:38.26 from ’01. Privately, both Kessler and Warhurst suspected he had more in him, but even they were shocked by his 3:34.36.
When asked if he’s feeling the stress of other people’s expectations, Kessler responds, “I really haven’t had any pressure this season. I just kind of ran and good things have happened. I do what I need to do to get better and I race hard and everything has come with it. It’s been a blessed season. The only thing I said was I wanted to break 4:00. I did that right away. And I wanted to qualify for the Olympic Trials. That took a few cracks. That was the only thing I really wanted bad, but that one came too.
“Everything has gone calmly, without me forcing it. I’ve just been rolling with the punches and I know there will be hiccups and it will be hard at some points, but I’m very confident that my running will continue to improve and get better.
“The running’s not what I’m worried about. It’s more the life changes and losing out on some of the experiences. But as far as pressure, I know there will be difficult times but I’m very confident that I’ll keep getting better.”