By Tyler Moss
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
“Tough, mentally and physically.”
These are the words Oklahoma State men’s cross country coach Dave Smith uses to describe senior Ryan Vail.
"He may not be the most talented guy in every race, but I guarantee you he gets more out of his talent than any other runner,” Smith said. “He has never backed down from anything. He would bleed to do well in a race."
Vail's mental and physical toughness has made him one of the most highly regarded athletes in the history of the program.
The Gresham, Ore., native has become the face of an OSU team that won its first Big 12 Championship last week in Ames, Iowa, and is ranked No. 2 in the country heading into next week's NCAA Midwest Regional meet.
Vail heads into the final stretch of a storied career aiming to help his team achieve the lofty goal set prior to the season - a national championship. No matter how the rest of this season plays out, Vail has secured his place in the school's cross country history.
"He is a coach, a leader, an athlete, and he has been everything to this team," Smith said. "He is the reason there is the gritty culture surrounding our team. Our young guys see the results that his attitude has produced. His personality will continue to live on and influence this team for years."
Vail deflects and downplays his impact on his teammates' success.
"I don't really know how much I've had to do with the toughness and grit of our team," Vail said. "I hope I've had an impact on them in some way, but I think that some of the young runners came in here with that attitude.
"When I look back on my time here at OSU, I want to be remembered as someone who was a positive influence. I want my teammates and coaches to view me as a good leader and someone who helped establish a solid team chemistry here."
That unselfish attitude has been one of the driving forces behind the Cowboys' success this season. Last season, Smith suggested racing strategies that could potentially hurt Vail's personal standings while increasing the team's chances to succeed. Vail accepted with open arms.
"First and foremost, Ryan cares about this team winning the national championship," Smith said. "He is totally willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. He is a smart runner and he understands exactly what he needs to do, as well as what the other guys on the team need to do, to get that (a national title) done."
After finishing eighth individually at last year's NCAA Championships, Vail hopes to become an All-American in consecutive seasons while leading Oklahoma State to an NCAA title.
He points out that his team has one more important step to improve their chances of going into nationals - the NCAA Midwest Regional Meet, which is being held at the Oklahoma State Cross Country Course in Stillwater Nov. 15. The Pokes have already claimed one team title there at the Cowboy Jamboree in September.
"We know that we have a little bit of a cushion heading into the Regional meet, but we do not want to lose on our home course," Vail said. "With the Big 12 title already under our belts, a regional victory would be a huge boost heading into the NCAA Championships."