When Garett Jeffries made the transition from being one of the best high school runners in the state to being just another talented runner on the Missouri cross country team, he knew he was getting a bigger chance to showcase what he enjoys.
After placing second in the cross country state championships and being a 1600 meter state champion with the track team as a senior at Marquette High School, the sophomore Tiger runner won his first college race at the Missouri Invitational on Sept. 9 and is making a name for himself.
After a freshman year in which he finished as the No. 2 Missouri runner in both the Big 12 Championships and the NCAA Regionals, he’s now part of a talented sophomore class from which coach Jared Wilmes is unable to pick just one standout.
He is sure of one thing, though.
“Garett Jeffries is going to be a star,” Wilmes said. “He’s not there yet, but this year is a culmination of a great freshman year.”
Despite such high expectations, Jeffries isn’t feeling any pressure. After dealing with the strain of being the biggest name on his high school team, he loves being in a group where he can run with equally talented runners.
“This group makes it easy to accomplish anything. We push each other to do amazing things,” Jeffries said.
The group includes former Hickman runner and his current roommate, Tim Cornell. Although the duo now offers support to one another, they were once arch rivals who raced against each other several times during their senior years in high school. Jeffries finished second to him in both the 2004 cross country state championship and the 1600 meter state championship in track. With the two extremely competitive runners now on the same team, there’s no trash-talking about running. Instead, their competitive sides come out in other activities.
“It’s kind of weird (that) we don’t trash talk about racing,” Jeffries said with a laugh. “That competition usually gets transferred into something like cards or basketball.”
This feeling of support, not rivalry, is a theme for the close-knit sophomore group and Jeffries. During the Missouri Invitational, he and three other sophomore runners, including Cornell, wanted to run together for the entire meet. If the pace got too fast for somebody, the pack would slow down to adjust that person’s speed. The group of runners encouraged each other and finished in the top four spots after finishing in a line so they would end the race in a tie. However, one person needed to come in first, so Jeffries got the honors. Instead of focusing on his win, he was happy the group stuck together, something he said will be a goal for future meets.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to kill each other out there,” Jeffries said.
While he is team-oriented, he is still a fierce competitor who has high individual aspirations. Eventually, he wants to be the best runner and leader on the team.
“I’m preparing myself for that role and would embrace it,” Jeffries said. “I just hope I can be fast enough to get there.”
This desire to succeed and set lofty goals started in high school. His former track coach and one of his role models, Tony Edwards, helped teach him a strong sense of discipline and intensity. Edwards is confident his former runner can do special things with his attitude.
“The way he trusts and believes in himself, there is nothing he can’t do if he puts his mind to it,” Edwards said. “He can break a lot of records at Missouri.”
Achieving this goal will require a lot of hard work, but Jeffries has never avoided putting the effort in. He runs eight to 10 miles every morning with an additional four to five miles in the afternoons. Over the summer, he ran 80 miles per week and hardly ever missed a workout. The dedication stood out to Wilmes when he called to ask how training was going.
“I’d talk to him, and he’d say he never missed a run,” Wilmes said. “It would be easy to skip a day, but he’s on a mission.”
To Jeffries, this high level of dedication is just part of his personality.
“I’m real rigid about my workouts. I’m just anal,” Jeffries said.
Along with his dedication and ambition, his friendly nature on and off the course also makes him an ideal runner to coach. Edwards said though Jeffries would credit his attitude to his former coach’s advice, the teaching was mutual.
“I think he helped me more than I helped him,” Edwards said. “The type of person he is, the way he approaches people, he’s just a delightful human being.”
He looks for any opportunity to bring humor to his sport.
“When we’re warming up or running, I’ll be out there cracking jokes, goofing off and trying to get people to relax,” Jeffries said.
Or playing pranks.
“One time last year, I tricked this intern we had on the team into thinking I was from England for two weeks,” Jeffries said. “I stopped because it was getting mean, but we had a good laugh about it.”
With his life consumed by a demanding sport, having fun helps balance things. He knows he isn’t a typical college student. He can’t afford to be up late and eat junk food every day because he needs a certain amount of sleep and to eat a specific diet. Also, he doesn’t go out much on the weekends. Instead, he spends time relaxing with the runners, who all live in the same duplex. Despite what others may see as restrictions to typical college freedoms, he couldn’t be happier with his life.
“Going out and being crazy on the weekends doesn’t outweigh getting to compete in big meets, staying in nice hotels on the road and being able to run on a Big 12 team,” Jeffries said.
“It’s a fun opportunity. I’d be a fool to pass it up. I don’t just want to be some ordinary joe. Why not aspire to be great?”