Bubba Thornton Q&A
The 2005-06 season marks Bubba Thornton’s 11th season at the helm of the University of Texas men’s track and field program. Thornton’s Longhorns enter the new season after enjoying a productive 2004-05 campaign. His squad contributed a school-best 124.5 points last season toward Texas’ second-place finish in the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Cup. Thornton recently sat down with TexasSports.com to give assessments of the cross country team’s success and the track and field squad’s off-season preparation for the 2006 season.
Q: Your track and field program was one of only two men’s teams in the country last year to finish in the top 12 nationally in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. What are your chances of doing that again this season?
BT: “Cross country placed seventh at the NCAA Championships (on Nov. 21), so it’s nice to be one-third of the way there. We left some points on the table last season at the NCAA Championships, and as a result of that, we’ve seen an increased effort from our team to put those things in place. Our guys have a lot of pride, as they demonstrated last year. They saw that we were really close to going higher in the team standings.
We have high expectations. This team has plenty of consistency, and we have a good senior and junior base of young men. We have some outstanding young guys who can fill some holes. If things go right for us and we have a little luck, we will have a shot at improving on that record.”
Q: Sophomore Leonel Manzano won the NCAA outdoor 1500-meter national title last season as a true freshman. As a result, Leonel likely will be a target of his competition. What will it take for Leonel to repeat his feat once again?
BT: “One of the neat things about Leo is he really understands who Leo is. He has really high expectations. Is he one of the guys who people are going to watch? Absolutely. This is the first year he has ever run cross country, and that will have a tremendous effect on his indoor and outdoor seasons. I’m not worried about Leo at all. To expect a guy to win four championships might be too much to ask. But, I know his heart is in it.”
Q: What about the three other student-athletes on your squad who have national titles to their credit? What are their chances of defending or regaining their titles?
BT: “Andra Manson has two NCAA titles (2004 indoor and outdoor high jump), and he didn’t have the season he had in mind last year. It was the end of a two-and-a-half-year span where he had been competing very, very frequently. He didn’t have the kind of year he wanted to have, but he did an outstanding job of working over the summer.
Donovan Kilmartin (2004 indoor heptathlon champion) and Trey Hardee (2005 outdoor decathlon) are two guys who have won national titles. Obviously, they’re in the same events (heptathlon and decathlon), so they can’t both be the national champion. But, they can score a lot of points for this team. When you score those three guys together (at a NCAA championship meet) - plus Leonel - all of a sudden, you have 38 points, if they perform to their ability.”
Q: The cross country team, led by head men’s cross country coach Jason Vigilante, had had a terrific season. Texas took second at the Big 12 Championships and nearly overtook Colorado for Big 12 supremacy before placing seventh at the NCAA Championships. Does this early success bode well for the team’s indoor and outdoor track seasons?
BT: “The cross country squad’s performance pushes everyone to work harder. Our track athletes understand that the cross country runners put in up to 100 miles per week, sometimes in very hot conditions. So, our track athletes want to make sure they are doing their part. Their attitudes have been really good this year. They see what we have in place, and they want to do better. These men put in the work over the summer, and that’s something we need to build on daily.”
Q: The aforementioned Trey Hardee and Leonel Manzano won NCAA titles last season in their first seasons as Longhorns. Do you see any newcomers having similar success this year?
BT: “I think Jacob Hernandez is going to have a tremendous impact on our team. He can contribute as an 800-meter runner, but he can also add help to a distance medley relay team and to our 4X400-meter relay team. We’re going to use him sparingly (in the relays) to give him the opportunity to do well in those individual events. He can have a tremendous impact on our team.
Derek Randall will offer some help for us in the distance throwing events. Ronald Hill has only been here a semester, but he will give us depth in the sprint events and will do really well in the long jump. Trey Griffin, a young man who transferred into our graduate school, will help our sprint program.”
Q: Junior Andra Manson won the NCAA indoor and outdoor high jump titles during a tremendous freshman season but did not win either event during his sophomore campaign. Is he in a situation where he needs to change his technique, or will a little rest put him back in championship form?
BT: “Andra has not had a chance to be a normal guy since he was a senior in high school. He won a state championship and a world junior championship before nearly making the Olympic team. He has never had a chance to wake up one morning, read the newspaper and go have breakfast with Mom and Dad. He had a chance to rest over the summer. He has learned to accept the pressure that comes with early success.
Everyone thinks he’s supposed to win every meet, and that just comes with the territory. He is still very young – he just turned 21 – and is among the nation’s elite jumpers. He just needs to recharge his batteries. Andra doesn’t have to reinvent anything. The desire has always been there. But, when the gas tank is empty, it’s empty. He hasn’t had a chance to relax. A guy needs to have a chance to relax sometimes.”
Q: You have four current or individual national champions on your roster, as well as a potent blend of seasoned veterans and solid newcomers. Given the talent available on this team, what are your chances of winning NCAA indoor and outdoor track titles this season?
BT: “Winning championships is something that we have discussed. It usually takes fewer points to win the indoor title than the outdoor title. Based on that, we have a little better shot at winning the indoor. It is certainly one of our goals.
This group would like to be the first to win a national championship at Texas. The key will be getting as many of our people in good health to the NCAA Championships with an attitude and a desire to do their best that day. They need to fight through the anxieties and fears that you go through when you get to the championship setting.”