AKRON When Jacob Hutcherson graduated from Lake High School, the idea of contributing to one of the best college track and field programs in the United States wasn’t exactly the most pragmatic aim.
He’d had a successful high school career, but wasn’t considered a top prospect with a fistful of scholarship offers in hand. So when an assistant coach from the University of Akron reached out to him, it was worth looking into.
Now, after redshirting his first season, he’s back to competing and has delivered some of the team’s top performances of the indoor season in his events, the weight throw and shot put.
“It’s amazing … I feel lucky to be here and I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity that not many schools felt like I deserved,” Hutchinson said. “I didn’t think it was possible and I was just going to come here (Akron) for engineering, but then (assistant) coach (Brian) Forrester offered me a preferred walk-on spot.”
His older sisters, Olivia and Grace, had both attended Akron and so Hutcherson knew quite a bit about the school and what it offered academically. He also knew its engineering program had a strong reputation and so the idea of pursuing his degree close to home sounded good.
When the chance to continue his athletic career arose along with that preferred academic path, Hutcherson committed to Akron and hasn’t looked back.
His first season of college track and field was spent as a redshirt, practicing and working out with the team, but not competing in meets. Given that he had some ground to make up against college competition, he used to year to get stronger and hone his technique.
“I did a lot more learning than anything,” Hutcherson said. “Working with (redshirt senior) Maurice Harris, watching him train and compete, I learned a lot.”
Harris is the team’s top thrower this season and now, Hutcherson has gone from training alongside him to competing with (and against) him in meets.
The results have been solid in the early going, as Hutcherson was third at the Akron Invitational earlier this month in the weight throw with a toss of 53’ 2.25” and that came after placing sixth in the shot put and fourth in the weight throw in a dual meet against Kent State a week earlier.
One thing that has helped motivate him is the overall success of the team, which has been ranked in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Division I Division I Men's Indoor Track and Field National Rating Index most of the season, putting the Zips among the top 25 teams in the country.
The program has been arguably the most consistently successful at UA under longtime head coach Dennis Mitchell, who is a 27-time Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year. Now in his 24th season at Akron, Mitchell has coached multiple NCAA champions and Olympic competitors. Hutcherson is working to learn as much as possible from the coaching staff, as well as his fellow throwers.
There have been learning experiences, as some of his farther throws have yielded lower placings at meets and shorter throws have been enough to crack the top three in some meets. It depends on the competition, but Hutcherson has an overarching goal in mind for the campaign. “My biggest thing was making it to the conference championship and being able to compete there,” he said. “You have to be in the top 15 of your event group and I’m not there yet, but I’m confident I can do it.”
One of the best parts of his first season competing at the college level was having the first two indoor meets at home. That allowed Hutcherson to compete at a college meet for the first time in the same place he trains on a daily basis and for a newcomer to college track, that comfort level can be a major boost.
One constant over the past two years, whether redshirting or competing, has been the difficult course load Hutcherson tackles each semester as a mechanical engineering major. Early on, in a so-called “weed out” class, UA engineering majors are told that only about one-third of those who start as engineering majors make it all the way through because of how demanding the program is.
Hutcherson aims to be one of those who do make it through and his goal is to work in the area once he graduates. He’s been good at math throughout his education and likes the idea of being able to put what he’s learned to use in the area where he grew up. For now, it’s about learning in the classroom and on the track as he tries to take further advantage of an opportunity that once seemed like a long shot.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB