Oct. 18, 2012
By Mike Mulcahy
As a collegiate cross country athlete, Sean Stam can run very well.
But entering college, the best he could do was walk on.
A walk-on athlete out of high school, Stam has become one of the University of New Mexico's best male cross country runners and a testament to hard work and dedication as the Lobos prepare for the 2012 Mountain West Cross Country Championships on Oct. 26.
"Sean has really made a breakout performance, and this from a walk-on from Rio Rancho," said New Mexico head cross country coach Joe Franklin. "It just shows with consistent training, belief in the systems and doing all the right things, Sean just keeps getting better and better."
Stam, a redshirt junior from Rio Rancho, N.M., came to UNM because he knew he could benefit from scholarships and opportunities unique to New Mexico residents.
"I always wanted to go out of state, but we have the lottery scholarship," Stam said. He decided to walk on to the Lobos' nationally ranked cross country program without an athletic scholarship, but with a chance to start down a life-changing track.
"So far, I can't imagine not have running," Stam said. "It's been an awesome experience."
An experience the lanky and facially hirsute runner never had until late in high school.
"I grew up playing soccer here in Rio Rancho and I really didn't start running competitively until my senior year of high school," he said. "I got interested in track and I've gotten more and more into it as I've gotten older."
A three-year letterman in soccer at Rio Rancho (N.M.) High School, Stam only lettered one year in track and field for Rams head coach Sal Gonzales. He had success while at Rio Rancho, winning the 3,200-meter run at the District 5A championships in 2009 and setting the school record in the mile at 4-minutes, 22-seconds.
And while he was not a highly recruited runner coming out of high school, Stam knew there was opportunity in developing as a runner at New Mexico.
"The year I was thinking about [attending UNM] was the year that Lee Emanuel won the mile and it's pretty cool to be part of a team that had that caliber of a guy," Stam said.
Emmanuel, who notched back-to-back NCAA championships in the indoor mile run in 2009 and 2010, was the poster child for high-end distance running and showed the kind of product that UNM's distance program could generate.
Since walking on, Stam has become one of the new standard-bearers for top-notch distance running at New Mexico.
"Sean Stam is the epitome of what can happen when a walk-on distance runner with great heart, outstanding commitment, and a daily, passionate approach to training listens carefully to his coaches," said assistant cross country coach Rich Ceronie. "He was not overly talented coming out of high school, but he is maximizing his abilities by buying into the training philosophy."
After a relatively quiet freshman year in 2010, Stam began proving himself as a runner — and a leader — during his sophomore year.
In 2011, Stam helped guide the Lobos to their third-straight Mountain West cross country title by placing fourth individually, and propelled New Mexico to a NCAA Mountain Region crown with a 23rd-place mark.
For his efforts, Stam was named 2011 First Team All-Mountain West and 2011 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Mountain Region, the first cross country honors of his career.
2012 has been more of the same for Stam, as he has registered the Lobos' top time in two of the three meets at which he has competed, including the preeminent Wisconsin adidas Invitational last weekend, a performance that merited Stam a Mountain West Men's Athlete of the Week nod on Tuesday.
Still, Stam is not complaining about sharing the load with three other outstanding athletes.
"It's been awesome so far. I don't think I've ever had anything like that. Every day, it's us four in practice and we're always running together."
The Lobos will need that production from their top four runners as they head to the Mountain West Cross Country Championships in two weeks.
Despite being picked as the preseason favorite by the conference's coaches in August, Stam and the Lobos know it will take their best effort to bring the conference championship back to Albuquerque.
"It's never been like 'it's going to be an easy win'," Stam said. "But I think we have always known we can do it and Coach Franklin just pushes us to expect that out of ourselves. I think it's definitely expected every time we go to at least fight for it."
This, for Stam, is part of the fun of running.
"You can find out a lot about yourself just through running," he said. "It is a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work. But it's something that when you're done with all that hard work, you have a reward."
The Lobos certainly hope so, too.