By Alex Folsom
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Many athletes enter college hoping to immediately contribute to their respective programs. Few are able to do so as they struggle keeping stride with the level of talent that exists in the NCAA where each athlete was a standout at his own high school and the competition is much more even than that of the school yard.
University of Kansas sophomore hurdler Michael Stigler is one of the few who transitioned smoothly from prep competition to the Division I spotlight. The 5-10 Canyon, Texas native was the 2012 Big 12 400-meter hurdles champion after ripping off a school record 49.45 time in the event. The weight of such an accomplishment is not lost on Stigler.
“It means a lot more to be a leader for my team; to come in and show everybody that no matter the age, you can still compete at a high level if you trust the coaching,” Stigler said.
Stigler gives much of the credit for his success to the coaching staff at Kansas who have helped him harness his abilities and led him to the top of the podium at the Big 12 Championship in his debut season.
“We have great coaches here. Head coach (Stanley) Redwine is a great coach and my hurdles coach, Elisha Brewer, is one of the best in the nation. I couldn't do it without them.”
Even with his early success, Stigler is more focused than ever with hopes of breaking the 49-second barrier, winning a national championship and has his eyes on a much bigger prize: Rio de Janeiro 2016 as a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
“That’s a big goal of mine,” Stigler said. “I know that Brazil 2016 is a long way away, but you have to start somewhere.”
Still those large aspirations haven’t inflated Stigler’s head. The All-American distinction recipient at the 2012 NCAA Championships repeatedly mentions that he must stay humble and hungry to succeed and when he says it, it feels genuine. For Stigler, always being hungry means that nothing is good enough and that anything can be improved.
And yet, though he had high goals, Stigler was astounded that he was able to win a Big 12 title so early in his career, but knew that at some point in his career he would be the best in his event as he never sets limits for himself.
“Last year, everything just worked out for me and that was a big shock to me,” Stigler said. “Not saying that I didn’t have faith or trust in myself, everything just happened at the right time. Even though I had a good freshman year, other freshmen have had great years, too. I’m one of the lucky ones to have a good one. For me to continue to do that, I have to pay attention to what the coaches say and do what they tell me and I’m pretty sure things will take care of themselves.”
Growing up just down the road from Lubbock, Texas, home of league member Texas Tech, Stigler grew to respect Big 12 Conference competition. It helped in his decision to become a Jayhawk that KU competes in the Big 12, but ultimately his choice was all about the atmosphere of the Kansas track and field program.
“When I visited on my recruiting trip, the family here was great,” Stigler said. “I felt like I was really at home. Outside of competing, I felt like the coaches would really care about me academically and as a person. That made it pretty simple for me to choose to come here.”
With his track kin Stigler likes to lighten the mood of grueling workouts by dancing and cracking jokes—even though he only gets laughs for not being funny. Despite the fact that he has never danced competitively, should he end up on the side of a Wheaties box as an Olympic medalist, Stigler would love a spot on Dancing with the Stars.
“I would never turn that down,” Stigler said. “That would be great to get some salsa in or something. That would be nice.”
With his always-hungry mantra, it’s not impossible to envision Stigler in front of a panel of judges and TV cameras showing off his moves with an Olympic medal around his neck.