Khallifah Rosser planned to compete in multiple events in track and field in his freshman year at Chaffey College, even going out and purchasing a pricey pair of jumping shoes.
A month or so into his spring season with the Panthers, those plans changed.
Head coach Blackman Ihem and hurdle coach Orentheus Hutcherson saw so much potential in their prized recruit they thought it would be better if he focused on one event rather than spreading him too thin, possibly risking injury.
“I told him keep those shoes as a souvenir, he wasn’t going to need them,” Ihem said after a morning workout with his athletes at Grigsby Field. “We knew he had potential to do something special if he just concentrated on one thing.”
Rosser, a graduate of Summit High School, has been thriving ever since. He won the 400-meter hurdles at the California Community College Athletic Association championship meet last month at College of San Mateo with a time of 52.08 seconds, despite having his shoe come untied halfway through the race.
Next up is the United States Junior National meet held in conjunction with the prestigious United States nationals in Des Moines, Iowa, from June 19-23. It is for athletes ages 16 to 19.
And yes, Rosser, 17, has Olympic aspirations.
“I’m not thinking that far ahead, but I would like to have that chance,” Rosser said. “I’m just going to keep working hard and trying to get better and see where it goes.”
There are a lot of factors in Rosser’s favor. At a lean 6-foot-2, Rosser has the perfect body type for a hurdler.
His age is another factor. He’ll be 20 come time for the 2016 Olympics, with another two Olympics coming in the time it typically takes male track athletes to reach their prime.
Diet is not an issue. Unlike most his age, he stays away from fast food and soda.
Ihem and Hutcherson like the progress their pupil already has made, without the benefit of conditioning work that normally takes place in the fall.
A nagging hip injury prevented Rosser from participating in the offseason strength and conditioning program, and yet he was still able to cut almost three seconds off his time in his event by the end of the season. He ran a 54.22 in his first meet of the season.
Hutcherson was hoping to see Rosser get down to 50 seconds flat and thinks that might have happened at state without the shoe mishap. He could still get down to that by the time his sophomore year officially starts.
“We knew he was going to be good, but you never know with guys,” Hutcherson said. “When we saw how much he improved in such a short time, we knew what we had. He also has a great work ethic. He wants to get better.”
Rosser’s improvement also comes even though the event is relatively new to him. High school hurdlers run 300 meters rather than the 400 meters in hurdles, but Rosser also competed in the open 400 meters.
“It really wasn’t that tough because it was a combination of both of those, which I did,” he said.
Rosser, one of seven siblings, played several sports growing up, including soccer, football and basketball. He didn’t try track until his sophomore year of high school and did so because he had watched older brother Fred, who competed for Silverado High School and now attends Division II Humboldt State.
His times are already better than those of his 20-year-old brother. It is a fun, yet coemptive rivalry. It’s also nice to have a relative in which to confide after a bad race or practice.
He looked into going to several four-year schools in the Cal State and UC systems but opted for the school closest to home. Friends also recommended Ihem to him.
“I work and get better in smaller settings,” Rosser said. “Not just when it comes to athletics, but the classroom too. I find I do better.”
Like it or not, Rosser just might have to get used to that bigger stage.
By Michelle Gardner Staff Writer
Posted: 06/04/2013 09:03:45 PM PDT