Nov. 9, 2009
Previous Cross Country Features
By Joe Darda
There are few men in possession of as much unwearable crimson and grey clothing as Jason Drake.
This past July, Drake--or "J.D."--joined Washington track and field and cross country head coach Greg Metcalf's staff, bringing with him nearly fifteen years of coaching experience. Drake is no stranger to Seattle, however, having made countless visits to Lincoln Park, Dempsey Indoor and Husky Stadium as the Washington State head distance coach.
Having coached against each other for the past seven years (and seven UW-WSU dual meets), Metcalf and Drake are suddenly seated in neighboring offices on Montlake. As unusual as it sounds, neither coach seems surprised by the remarkable circumstance; in fact, coaching together has been a running joke for years.
"Coach Metcalf and I have known each other for quite awhile and have always joked about the idea of coaching together," Drake says. "This summer, luck just fell into place. A job opened up here and that was it."
Metcalf has repeatedly made the point that his new assistant could easily be a head track coach at another Pac-10 school. Drake certainly has the credentials. During his seven-year stint in Pullman, Drake led the men's cross country team to the 2006 NCAA Championships, their first NCAA appearance in eight years and second since 1984. On the track, Drake coached three athletes to All-American honors, as well as two-time Pac-10 steeplechase champion Sara Trané.
Prior to joining Washington State, Drake contributed to one of the most decorated distance programs in the nation at the University of Colorado. After graduating from Colorado in '94 with an All-American trophy and a degree in environmental conservation, Drake worked as an assistant to head coach Mark Wetmore from 1995-2002.
The decision to take on his former pupil as an assistant, Wetmore says, was an easy one: "As an athlete, I could see that he was hard-working, sober-minded and intelligent. So when I was looking for an assistant and JD was available, I knew immediately that he possessed the necessary foundation to be successful."
In those subsequent seven years, both men's and women's programs won NCAA titles and future Olympian's Adam Goucher and Kara Grgas-Goucher claimed individual crowns. While at Colorado, Drake personally mentored a number of All-American middle-distance runners, including Lesley Higgins and Steve Slattery.
"J.D.'s experiences as a coach are pretty fantastic," Metcalf says. "He brings a wealth of knowledge and a fresh perspective to our program. He is a tremendous complement to me and to our team, and he takes a load of stress off my shoulders."
The stress off Metcalf's shoulders is evident in Drake's various undertakings. In addition to coaching and recruiting responsibilities, he will be encouraging alumni relations and fundraising with the aim of a new outdoor track and field facility. This is what Drake calls "the big picture stuff."
"In the new world with resources like Flotrack, our sport is getting more exposure and there are people in the community who will get involved," Drake points out. "I'm hoping to reach out to those people."
In addition to websites like Flotrack, which provides comprehensive video coverage of track and cross country events, Drake is doing his own part to promote the sport--and the Huskies--through his "uwtrack" Twitter account. Here's a sample tweet from last Friday's Pac-10 championship race, in which the women's team won narrowly over Oregon:
"Blood of Ore wins Too close to call with Ore"
"I have it UW by 2 with 400 to go"
"In my excitement might have missed one Ore place it's close"
"Unofficial we win 35 42 I stress unofficial"
Talk about up-to-the-minute feedback! But this is the type of excitement Drake hopes to provide for Washington cross country fans. He knows what a little timely coverage can do for a program.
During Drake's tenure at CU, author Chris Lear wrote a book detailing the team's 1998 cross country season, a season in which Goucher won the NCAA individual title. Lear's Running with the Buffaloes promoted Wetmore to "running genius" and sanctified Boulder as hallowed grounds for the distance community. Drake, or rather JD, appears frequently in the book, a persona that has proved inescapable.
"Even today, the references are nonstop," Drake says jokingly. "It haunts my life."
Besides his appearance in Lear's book, Drake is remembered in Boulder for his work in founding the Colorado Elite Track Club, a nonprofit organization for post-collegiate female middle and long distance runners. Founded in 1999, the club was an effort to support top tier post-collegians without the resources of a shoe company sponsorship. The club included, among others, eventual two-time Olympian Shayne Culpepper, and World Cross Country competitors Janet Trujillo and Sarah Toland.
"When you are in college, they buy your plane tickets and shoes," Drake says, "but when you get out in the real world you don't have that support. That's what I tried to change in Colorado, to found a nonprofit organization that could provide some post-collegiate women the necessary support."
Wetmore, though uninvolved in the Colorado Elite Track Club, was impressed by Drake's success with these post-collegians and acknowledges the need for like-minded organizations. "The professional world welcomes the 4:05 1500-meter women, but doesn't welcome with open arms the 4:12 1500-meter women," Wetmore says. "If you are at that step just below world-level, it won't be easy. The situation needs people like JD to keep banging their heads against it."
With the No. 1 UW women claiming their second consecutive Pac-10 title last weekend, a Washington Elite Track Club may be in order; something Drake says is not out of the question.
In addition to a women's team championship, Pac-10s also brought a reunion for Drake with his former Cougar athletes, some of whom he had coached for the past four years.
"Seeing those guys at Pac-10s was a little tough because you recruit those kids and experience success with them," Drake says. "It was a little weird, especially wearing the purple with the in-state rivalry."
Metcalf is aware of the difficulties inherent in Drake's cross-state move, but has been impressed by his new hire's composure: "There is not an ounce of bad blood whatsoever. He still talks to his athletes there and to Coach Julian [Drake's successor at WSU]. I think that says a lot about JD's impact on their program and I think it says a lot about the impact he can make on ours. He's a loyal guy."
Drake's attitude and experience have been warmly embraced by the men's distance crew that he works with most. Senior Colton Tully-Doyle had high praise for J.D. in a Q&A earlier this season with GoHuskies.com.
"Coach Metcalf hiring J.D. is one of the best decisions for this program and a big reason why this team is (succeeding) right now," Tully-Doyle said. "He always has a tip of the day, and he complements Metcalf. He's got so much experience from Colorado and he's been a head coach already; he knows what the best athletes do. Overall, he brings a lighthearted attitude to practice but if he says something everyone does it."
With only weeks left in the season and NCAA's close on the horizon, Metcalf, Drake, assistant coach Kelly Strong and, of course, the team have their work cut out for them. In other words:
"Sunday morning at the Watershed, back to work!"