Q & A with Joe Walker - part two

The following is part two of a two-part series of stories with Ole Miss track coach Joe Walker.

JR: You've talked about having most of your scorers back from last season. Talk about the needs you feel you met with the incoming class.

JW: First of all, we don't recruit positions. We recruit the best athletes. Given our situation of returning so many, we feel we had a great recruiting year. We had more (scholarship) aid on the women's side. Generally we feel very good about things as far as newcomers.

JR: Do you see a talent level now that you didn't see here five years ago?

JW: Without a doubt. We had a great year this past season, but with just a little bit of luck, we could have had one of those ungodly years. Really and truly. Normally I like to be philosophical, but when I sent out my last newsletter (to supporters and boosters), I just sent out a list (of accomplishments) and said there they are. It showed the type year we had. And that's as much because of the talent we have in this program as anything.

JR: Talk more about those superlatives.

JW: Brittney Reese of Gulfport made the USA World Championship team. That's probably the most phenomenal thing we had happen this year. Second most would be Barnabas Kirui winning the NCAA title. John Yarbrough had a phenomenal season. He won the Drake Relays and was an NCAA runnerup. He was SEC runnerup and Mideast Regional champion. We won the men's and women's long jump at the SEC, which is a unique thing. Brittney Reese won it and Charles Bailey won it. Charles is a great story. He's a Mississippi kid from D'Iberville who battled injuries and kept a good attitude during it all. He ended up a champion before he left here, which was really special to us. He was the soul of our team to a degree. It was exciting to see somebody get rewarded for maintaining a good attitude and being a team person regardless of whatever happened to him. Barnabas' triple at the SEC was special. That's not easy to come by. He will represent Kenya in the World University Games. Kenyatta Coleman is a Mississippian from Brookhaven who had a great year. We still maintain a tradition of having great Mississippi kids in the program. She had a super year, made the finals of the NCAA, scored at the SEC, that sort of thing.

JR: Put this year in terms so that an average fan would understand just what this team accomplished.

JW: We were 12th nationally in the men's and 27th in the women's. That's the highest we've ever been ranked outdoor in track and field. We've been ninth and 10th in indoor track before. We left last season as coaches and athletes feeling that we had a strong nucleus, but we had to prove it to the general public. I believe you are what you are with all my heart. You are not your potential; you are what you are. If you're tenth, you're tenth. But last year (2005-06) we had a lot of kids who almost got a lot of things done. We were young and so we thought we had a chance to have a great year this year. Now we did it, but you can still see an "almost" in there. We weren't that far from moving up to say seventh nationally. I don't want to diminish my seniors, but we lost just 10 points on the men's side and no points on the women's side for next year. And we've got some new people coming in who we think will contribute. I don't want to let my mouth overload reality, but we are where we thought we'd be when we got this facility. I knew it wouldn't happen overnight. But I feel like I'm a new coach at a new place, and I've got a five-year plan. I feel like you're seeing that now. You're seeing what we can do at Ole Miss in track and field. There's no way you can come in here and feel any other way than we want to have a great track program. This is serious business.

JR: It also sounds like you feel you have recruited a group of winners off the track as well.

JW: We are blessed with a special group of kids in terms of attitude, in terms of getting along, in terms of gender to gender. Just a really nice group of kids that are fun to be around, not only to watch them do well but just to be around them. We like the group we had and we are excited about the group that will be here next year.


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