John Hayes

Former Texas track star Leo Manzano overcame setbacks to get back on track for a 2016 Olympic games appearance.

Leo Manzano had never even run eight miles before the Texas track and field team recruited him in 2004. 

“He hadn’t had the conditioning program that he was going to have at the University, lets put it that way,” said Bubba Thornton, former Longhorn track and field head coach. “[Former distance coach Jason Vigilante] had said we knew that Leo was going to be really good. We weren’t for sure that he was going to be great.” 

But eight years and four NCAA championships later, Manzano stood upon an Olympic podium in London clad in a silver medal after a closing surge in the 1500-meter final. 

“He’s not a quitter,” Manzano’s coach John Hayes said. “That helped him get that silver medal. He could have easily quit in that race.”

Manzano, who graduated from Texas in 2008 with Spanish and Portuguese degrees and a minor in business, ended the summer of 2012 by medaling in the most important race of his career. But just a few months later, his future was thrown into jeopardy.

Manzano was unable to renegotiate his contract and lost his running sponsorship with Nike in November 2012. He was left scrambling to find the resources necessary to travel to races and hire an Olympic-caliber trainer. 

“There was a lot of self-doubt [and] a feeling of inadequacy just because you know that you’ve accomplished one of the most important highlights of your career, winning a medal for the U.S.,” Manzano said. “It was very difficult.”

The “never quit” attitude Hayes saw in London kept Manzano on the track for a year and a half without a sponsor. 

Manzano’s business minor paid handsome dividends in his quest to return to the top of this sport. 

After almost a year without a sponsor, Manzano used T-shirt sales to fund his training and balanced business administration with the task of maintaining Olympic-level fitness.

Finally, in April 2014, sponsorships from French shoe company Hoka One One and watch company Timex brought stability to his career.

Manzano now views his rough year as a period of growth.

“It was an experience that I wouldn’t change for the world,” Manzano said. “I really do think that it made me stronger as a person.”

The new sponsorships also brought new challenges, however. 

Now, Manzano has to balance attending sponsorship events, working as a celebrity ambassador for the Marathon Kids charity and even attending movie premieres on top of the huge time commitment and rigorous training regiment being a top-flight Olympian requires.

“There’s a lot more that comes with being a silver medalist,” Manzano said. “I am very fortunate and always very grateful that I was able to accomplish that, but there has been a lot more work that has come with it as well.”

With new sponsorships in hand and a new coach, Manzano has his sights set on the Olympics — this time the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“That’s my next goal,” Manzano said. “I studied Portuguese at the University of Texas, so I’m hoping to use it wisely if all goes well and I make it to Rio.”

Craig Lutz was unable to finish the National Championship due to a leg injury. The loss hurt the Horns’ chance at the title. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

You may not be watching, but they’re there. They’re awake before the sun hits the horizon, running upwards of 85 miles per week, pushing their minds and bodies past standard limitations.

Cross-country doesn’t draw the 100,000 of spectators other sports have, but the hard work and dedication put in is equivalent, if not more. What sets cross-country apart is the grueling mental motivation required. It is one of the few sports in which your biggest competition is yourself. It’s a fight to see how much you can convince yourself you are capable of.

“If you are not mentally tough you can struggle no matter how good of a cross-country runner you are,” senior Rory Tunningley said.

“Running at our level isn’t a natural thing for the body. So while we can prepare it all we want and reach a top physical peak, our minds will always battle our bodies and say that the places we try to take it are unreasonable and dangerous. The greatest runners are the ones who don’t allow their minds to control them,” sophomore Craig Lutz added.

Despite the separate mental focus of each athlete and cross-country’s appearance as an individual sport, the Longhorns assert that they are nothing less than family — and that includes their coach.

Senior Kyle Merber, a transfer student from Columbia, said, “You have got to admire the way [coach John Hayes] runs the program. This is his passion, not just a job for him. I know that he stays up late at night thinking of ways he can make us better, and that enthusiasm carries over into the way the team operates on a daily basis.”

The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) announced John Hayes as the NCAA South Central Region Coach of the Year for the second consecutive year.

With Hayes’s inspiration, Texas had every expectation to make history. They came into the season with the highest preseason ranking in program history in the USTFCCCA poll at No. 6, finished second in the Big 12 Championship and took first for the second consecutive year at the regionals meet to qualify for the nationals meet.

Finishing 9th at nationals may appear to be a success, but the team with a No. 5 ranking and the drive to place in the top three, perceived it as a loss. The Longhorns were at their mental and physical peaks, but still faced obstacles.

A leg injury to Lutz crippled the Longhorns at nationals, preventing him from completing the race, impairing the overall team score. Initially, Lutz was flooded with feelings of guilt for the team and disappointment in himself. However, one of the most impressive aspect of the men’s cross-country team is how they stand together.

“I would describe the team as a family unit that you can come back to when you’re having your worst of days that will always embrace you no matter how you do, or no matter what happens on any given day. Its just comforting to know that there’s a group of guys that always have my back,” Lutz said.

Within the week after the meet, with the support from his family and the team, Lutz came to accept his misfortune. “I have no regrets from this season. At first I thought I could say my performance at nationals but there wasn’t a lot of control I had in that situation. All I can do is learn from it and build my character to something stronger for next year.”

While Lutz will return, the Longhorns will be losing key members in Merber, Tunningley, Patrick McGregor, Trevor Van Ackeren next season.

“I put personal goals to the side this year; for me the 2012 cross country season was about the team. As a team leader I was centered on not just getting myself to perform at a high level but to also make sure that my teammates were prepared to do the same,” Tunningly said.

The younger members on the team will have some big shoes to fill next season and even higher expectations to face, but with a family behind them, anything is possible.

No. 5 Texas secured their position in the NCAA Cross Country Championships for the fourth consecutive time this past weekend at the NCAA South Central Regional Championships. The Longhorns pushed past Arkansas and Texas A&M to achieve their second consecutive first place win at the meet.

In addition to creating a winning tradition at regionals, the victory means that for every year assistant coach John Hayes has been with the team, they have been guaranteed a spot in the National Championship.

“I was really proud of the guys. They went out and did what we had to do,” Hayes said. “They did what they had to do in order to get to nationals and that is what our focus was today.”

Sophomore Ryan Dohner led the Longhorns at the meet, finishing fourth overall. Dohner accomplished a 10K time of 30:00.8, surpassing his personal record of 30:21.1, set at last season’s regional meet.

Despite the cross-country season nearing its end, the hardest part is yet to come for Texas. The NCAA Cross Country Championships is right around the corner Saturday, and the Longhorns will spend their remaining time until then preparing in any way they can.

Men's Cross Country

If Texas continues the trend set by assistant coach John Hayes, a Big 12 Championship should be more or less guaranteed for the next cross-country season.

Since coach John Hayes’s arrival with the team in 2009, Texas has upgraded sequentially in the conference meet each season — fifth in 2009, fourth in 2010, third in 2011, second in 2012 this past Saturday and if the trend continues, first in 2013.

“We didn’t accomplish what our goal was, but it was a solid performance, just wasn’t quite what we were looking for. When OSU made a move, psychologically that gets in guys’ heads and we weren’t able to cover that move like I thought we should have been able to,” Hayes said.

Although the Longhorns were not able to secure a first place victory, they managed to cause an upset in their defeat of Oklahoma. Yet many of the Longhorn runners expressed they were not completely satisfied with their performance and with the fact that Oklahoma State was able to pull off the win for the fifth consecutive season.

“We still have yet to have a meet where we have everybody running 100 percent, and [OSU] put in a stronger move than we were prepared to cover,” sophomore Craig Lutz said. “All in all they are probably a better 8k team, but when the championship stuff moves to a 10k, we’re going to have a better shot,”

The Longhorns look hopeful for the future as they prepare for the NCAA South Central Regional Championships on Friday, Nov. 9.

Although Texas placed fifth out of 31 teams in the Greater Louisville Classic this past Saturday, assistant coach John Hayes said that their main objective was not necessarily to win.

“It is important that we are out there and we get a sense of what we will see in two months [at nationals] ... That’s the whole purpose of going — we are not going to worry about the results,” Hayes said.

The fifth place finish was earned with two of Texas’s top runners, Kyle Merber and Ryan Dohner, resting on the sidelines.

Despite finishing fifth, the Greater Louisville Classic was a race of firsts for the Longhorns. For the first time in his collegiate career, Craig Lutz, who finished 22nd overall, didn’t lead the team in a race; instead, it was Rory Tunningley leading the Longhorns, surpassing his personal best in the 8k for an 11th place finish. Additionally, Trevor Van Ackeren ran in his first cross-country race since the 2009 season and managed to take home a 49th place finish. Finally sophomore Blake Williams pulled off an 85th place finish in his debut as a Longhorn.

Texas is competing in what is arguably the most difficult cross country conferences in the country. The Longhorns, ranked preseason No. 6, will begin the season this weekend when they take on UTSA at Auditorium Shores.

Conference foes No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Oklahoma will pose threats to the Longhorns’ goal of becoming a conference-winning team.

Texas is hoping to start its season off right.

“We won’t be satisfied until we win the Big 12,” said assistant coach John Hayes. “It is a brutal conference competitively, but it makes it more fun in October when we compete in the conference championships.”

Last season, the Longhorns came in 11th at the NCAA Championships. This year, they are looking to finish even higher.

Sophomore Craig Lutz, who led the team last season as a freshman, returns this season and looks to make even more of an impact. He came in 33rd overall at the NCAA Championships.

In addition, Mark Pinales, who was also a freshman last year, will be back this weekend to help the Longhorns as they hope to begin the season with a victory over the Roadrunners.

“Quite honestly, our goal is to finish higher than what that ranking is. If we finish there, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing. But we are looking to do a little better than that,” Hayes said.

Junior Ryan Dohner and senior Rory Tunningley are also returning to the lineup.

“It is great to be ranked in August, but at the end of the day, the national championship is in November and you have to stay healthy over the next three months to be successful,” Hayes said.

Men's Cross Country

Craig Lutz made an impact for Texas in his first year on campus and the freshman earned All American honors.

Photo Credit: John Smith | Daily Texan Staff

At times, Craig Lutz may look like a boy among men when competing for Texas. But make no mistake, Lutz runs with ability beyond his years and is now the cornerstone for a rising program.

In his first fall on the Texas men’s cross-country team, Lutz did not shy away from the competition. The freshman enjoyed top-15 finish in Wisconsin, a fourth-place finish and all-conference recognition in the Big 12 Championship, a third-place finish in the South Central Regional Championship on Nov. 12 and finished No. 33 at the NCAA Championships — good enough to make him an All-American, the 20th in school history.

Thanks to head coach John Hayes, Lutz was able to employ a simple approach this season.

“Something really cool about how Coach Hayes approached the season is that my expectations are all on myself for my individual stuff, and the expectations from him are all the team aspect,” Lutz said. “If it’s the best race that I can produce, then it’s what he expects.”

Lutz knows though that he won’t be able to rest on the laurels of a historic freshman season.

“The good thing about college is that there is never going to be a shortage of competition,” Lutz said. “I know there’s never going to be a moment during the four or five years that I am here that the nation isn’t going to be producing 10 or 20 top guys who all could win a national championship.”

At Flower Mound Marcus High School, Lutz was captain of the track and field team for two seasons and was regarded by his peers as the best athlete in the school. Despite the fact that Texas had never won a national championship and hadn’t won a conference title since 1995, Lutz decided to bring his talents to Austin.

“During the recruiting process, I looked pretty much all over the country at a lot of teams with a lot more history, probably better climate, the list goes on,” said Lutz. “But it all came down to the relationship I felt like I had built with Coach Hayes here and the team atmosphere.”

Lutz has helped build on that history though. Before this season, the Longhorns hadn’t been ranked in the top 1- since 2006. Now they’ve wrapped up a season in which they finished 11th in the NCAA Championships.

“The future looks bright,” Hayes said.

Printed on Thursday, December 1, 2011 as: Lutz exceeds expectations with All-American season

Rory Tunningley led the Longhorns with a time of 25:43, which was good for fifth at the Grass Routes Grand Prix on Friday. The junior runner helped Texas to a third place finish at the event despite the difficulty of the course. 

“I think our team just wanted to come out here and put in a good effort before our next meet in Wisconsin,” Tunningley said.

The hilly course combined with the 8:15 a.m. starting time presented some challenges to
the field.

“I thought it was fantastic. The atmosphere out here was really nice,” Texas assistant coach John Hayes said. “It’s early in the season, but it was a great atmosphere. We had some teams and some great individuals that were running hard, and I hope it’s a tradition that we can continue.”

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: Longhorns finish third at tough Austin meet

After competing Saturday in Waco at the NCAA South Central Regional, Texas came home with a second-place finish, clinching a spot in the NCAA Championship.

The team drew in 66 points. Arkansas, the regional champion, finished first with 30 points, while Lamar took third and 102 points.

“We expected to get top two,” said head coach John Hayes. “We have been aiming at regionals and nationals all year. This team really works hard for each other.”

Individual victories came with five all-region honors through freshmen Ryan Dohner and Patrick McGregor, juniors Brian Rhodes-Devey and Brock Simmons and senior Bradley Lowry. Dohner crossed the finish line in fifth, leading Texas in the 10K race, with a time of 30:21.1.

This NCAA Championship trip, which will be held Monday Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind., will be Texas’ 27th national visit. Last season, the team tied for 28th.

“Now it is time to put the region meet behind us and look ahead to the national meet,” Hayes said.

This Saturday, the Longhorns will take part in the Princeton Invitational and Concordia Invite in Cedar Park.

While the matches won’t be filled with top teams, they are equally important to helping assistant coach John Hayes accomplish his goals.

“Our teams are looking just fantastic, with new people and returning experience,” Hayes said. “Our depth is getting better, and I’m prepared to see who’s going to be out in front.”

The team is sending the top 12 men most likely to bring home a win to Princeton, while Concordia‘s meet will boast middle distance runners.

Despite already competing in a couple of events, Hayes considers this to be the first real racing weekend.

“We understand where these meets sit in the whole scheme of things,” Hayes said. “We’ve been focusing on getting mentally prepared, as this weekend will serve as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the conference meet in two weeks.”

While runners such as junior Brock Simmons hope to see the team end up finishing in all of the top five spots this weekend, Hayes is not focused so much on the top spots.

“I just want us to end up injury-free and a step closer to being as good of a team as we can possibly be going into the conference meet,” Hayes said. “If we did end up with the top five, that’d be great, too. I just want a win.”

Last year, the team struggled after losing several super seniors, but this year’s squad has three guys stepping it up in practice to lead the pack. Junior Bryan Rhodes-Devey finished seventh in the finals last year. Patrick McGregor has shown leadership already as a red-shirt freshman, as has newcomer Ryan Dohner.

“Things are always different in competitions, though,” Hayes said. “I’m looking for at least two more guys to narrow that gap, so have a good group running up there together. We’ll just have to see how things go this weekend.”