With a little over three hours until sunrise, Sam Houston State pole vaulter Garrett Larson, a construction management major, awoke at his Huntsville residence, got ready, and made the hour trip south to Houston to beat the summer heat and fulfill his construction internship.
For a promising athlete three months from beginning his junior year, it was that moment, and those moments over the continuing weeks, that put everything into perspective.
“Last year was a super rough year for me,” Larson said. “There were days of practice I would just about quit. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing here anymore. I ended up getting a job working construction and what I learned was you can’t grow up too fast. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a college athlete and do something I enjoy.”
With a new outlook, the Brenham product has shined to open the 2016 indoor season. At the LSU Purple Tiger Invitational, Larson broke the school record, clearing 17 feet, 5 ½ inches, placing him No. 10 nationally. One week later, he grabbed the top spot at the Texas A&M Team Invitational.
“I don’t look at the records and standings,” Larson said. “It sound weird, and everyone has their own motivation, but when I go out, I am just pole vaulting for me. If I set a record or go up in the ranking on the way there, that’s great, but I am just here having fun. That’s what I learned over the summer – just enjoy it.”
Despite etching his name among the nation’s elite heading into the third meet, Larson was not particularly dominant at Brenham High School or highly recruited, but was offered a scholarship by Sam Houston based on the potential the Bearkats’ staff saw.
“He didn’t vault real well in high school but he had a good end to his senior year,” eighth-year track and field coach David Self said. “He cleared 14 feet, 6 inches, or somewhere in there and he probably hit 15-3 at the state meet but he has a lot of things you can’t coach.”
Larson, who was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and drew a look from the Kats based on his 6-1 stature and speed, was invited to the Huntsville campus, where he immediately clicked with the staff and their way of coaching.
“Our coaches don’t talk down to you or yell at you,” Larson said. “They motivate you to push yourself and that’s how I train. They showed that they did that really well when I came on my recruiting trip and that’s when I realized I wanted to be here.”
Included in the coaching mix is pole vaulting coach Cutter Bernhard, a former three-year team captain for the Bearkats as a vaulter, and as a 2012 graduate of the program, someone who has served more of a big brother role for Larson.
“He’s a great kid and I say ‘kid,’ but he’s not that much younger than I am,” Bernhard said. “We get along very well. It’s more of a big brother-little brother relationship. He’s one of the easiest people to coach. With him, it’s more about working at it together, coming up with a conclusion and moving forward together.”
With the demands that come along with being a student-athlete, including the constant mental and physical drive associated with focusing on one event, Larson credits Bernhard with his ability to make the experience an enjoyable one.
“I can definitely say I wouldn’t be where I am today without Cutter,” Larson said. “He’s brought me a long way. I remember one summer, we did a lot of training together, traveling to meets together and became friends. It helps in the training process and makes practice easier, more fun and that’s what it comes down to.”
As a kid who was talented in doing tricks on the trampoline, Larson sought his mother’s advice and gave the pole vault a shot in eighth grade. His experience and success in the event have grown over the years, while the reason for competing has been constant.
“When you do something for eight years, you’ve got to have fun,” said Larson. “I enjoy it so much, I am just doing it for a good time.”
Sam Houston closes out the indoor season Feb. 15-16 at the Southland Conference championships from the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala.