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Monday, August 3, 2020

Cross Country

Freshman hits the ground running


Freshman Brian Barraza fell in love with running when he was 7 years old, now, he has become one of the best in the country. He is ranked the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 athlete in freshmen under 20 years old in the 3000-meter and 5000-meter. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Freshman Brian Barraza fell in love with running when he was 7 years old, now, he has become one of the best in the country. He is ranked the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 athlete in freshmen under 20 years old in the 3000-meter and 5000-meter. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Though Brian Barraza excelled at El Paso Franklin High School, where he set the school record in the 1600-meter, 3200-meter, three-mile and 5K and was an important piece of their 2011 and 2012 District Championship teams, he never dreamed he would have immediate success at the collegiate level.

Barraza thought there would have been a bigger acclimation period to the Houston humidity and that his high school’s relatively new track program contributed to his ability to break records. But his background provided a healthy advantage.

“El Paso is in the desert, so it’s super-hot during the summers with no humidity, and in the winters it gets really cold. El Paso is also in altitude, which poses different physiological challenges. What I figured out is that those challenges are equally matched by the humidity here,” Barraza said

“I went from a school where the records were not hard to break simply because there weren’t many students who came through there, because the school was relatively new. Now I am at a university where hundreds, if not thousands, of student athletes have come through here and succeeded. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that in such a short time I can count myself with the best this University has produced.”

Barraza is the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 athlete in freshmen under 20 years old in the 3000-meter and 5000-meter, respectively. Barraza broke the first record, the 3000-meter, at the Texas A&M Aggie Invitational with a time of 8:16.84. It was a record previously broken a year earlier by his teammate and friend Yonas Tesai.

“Everyone here is really supportive; we really work like a family. We want to see the best for each other. … I mean, even though it was his record I broke, he wants me to get better, and I want him to get better,” Barraza said. “I want us to push the record as far down as we can. That’s one of the things that I love about this team, we all have each other’s backs. It’s more like a family than a team.”

Tesai, who recently took second in the 800-meter at the Texas Invitational, agreed with Barraza and expressed his appreciation for the freshman’s humility and talent.

“To see a freshman break my record, that’s just nice. I’ll eventually get my record back, but for now it’s nice to see him succeed early. I was like him when I was a freshman — checking all the records but staying humble, asking Coach Magness for advice and working hard,” Tesfai said.

“When you work hard, you see the results. To have a freshman class like that — always motivated and hungry — makes the older runners love doing what we do every day.”

Barraza has loved running since he was 7 years old, when his mother signed him up as a 100-meter and 200-meter sprinter after giving up on baseball. At 11, Barraza moved into distance running when “everybody started getting faster.” Cross country allows Barraza to combine a passion with a talent.

“I ended up running cross country because my mom suggested it, even though I thought cross country was running on roads and trails and didn’t want to get lost. What I found out is that I love running long distance. I love the mental aspect. You can do something completely phenomenal as long as you have the mental strength to hammer through it,” Barraza said.

“When I was in high school, it never felt that I was any better physically; it just felt like a series of mental breakthroughs. I found that I could run harder for longer just because I have the will to do so.”

Barraza is quickly proving to himself and the nation that through purity of his craft and the love of running, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the world of track and field and in the annals of UH history.

When asked how he’s handling his newfound star status, the response was as humble as the man himself.

“I’ll enjoy it when I cross the line,” Barraza said.

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