It was a goal from day one. Former Naugatuck High state cross country champion Mohamed Hrezi, now a senior at Iowa State University, believed it was possible.
“My coach (Matt Smith) trained me all year in hopes of attaining All-American accolades,” Hrezi said Nov. 24, one day after he become at All-American. “I just put myself in position from the gun and ran with heart. I knew I only had one shot at this.”
At the NCAA Division I cross country championships Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind., Hrezi ran to 24th place to become an All-American. His time for the 10K race was 30 minutes, 35 seconds.
The weather was frigid. Hrezi sizzled. He said a good start placed him within the top 25 for the entire race.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to hold the pace because it got extremely hard at 8,000 meters,” Hrezi said. “At that point, I put my head down and dug deeper than I ever had before. I have dreamt of being All-American my entire life, but I had never been so close to attaining my goal.
“With about 200 meters to go, I realized that I had secured my spot in the top 25 and I was absolutely overwhelmed with joy. I crossed the finish line for the last time in my cross country collegiate career, and I had finally become an All-American.”
Hrezi showed us the heart of a champion while at Naugatuck. He turned in a stunning race at the Class L state championships in 2008. Hrezi won the race by a mere two seconds over Ryan Laemel of Amity. The finish was remarkable for one fact: In the 2007 Class L race, Hrezi finished 80th.
You might say the man was motivated.
This collegiate All-American did not win the Naugatuck Valley League championship race that year. That title went to Chris Bendtsen of Wolcott. Both runners broke a course record that day in 2008, but Bendsten won the race by 30 seconds.
Hrezi was inspired that day at Wickham Park in the “L” race. A few days later, he ran 12th at the State Open and beat Bendtsen.
When Hrezi gets a goal in front of him, he knows how to get it.
“My entire life, I wondered what All-Americans did to be so good,” he said. “I would have loved to follow one of them around all day to learn all their secrets. Now I realize it takes so more work than one can imagine.”
Hrezi, an accounting major, has been All-Big 12 in track and cross country, both on the field and in the classroom. He said that he will take this week off from training.
“I am still overwhelmed with joy,” he said. “I am allowing myself to relax this week, but I will forget about this race next week because it will be time to start training for track. The process will start all over, and I will be working as hard as I can to reach the national championships again, both for indoor and outdoor track.”
The ultimate goal now, Hrezi said, is to “keep Naugatuck proud.”