Brentwood High School graduate Kevin Lazas has taken his track and field accomplishments to the next level. On March 10, Lazas won the NCAA National Championship in the heptathlon, helping his University of Arkansas track and field team to win its 20th team national title in school history.
Lazas, a junior, posted the third-highest score in NCAA history in the heptathlon and his 10-point victory was by the smallest margin in history. The battle between he and Wisconsin junior Japheth Cato came down to the final event. Heading into the 1,000-meter run, Lazas had a 50-point lead on Cato - equivalent to 4.5 seconds.
“With a lap to go I was right on Cato,” Lazas said. “With 150 meters to go my legs gave out. I don’t remember, but there were 40 meters left in the race and I started falling forward and didn’t think I was going to finish. My feet never crossed the line, just my body. I was lying down on the ground and the crowd went silent.”
Lazas finished 3.24 seconds behind Cato to claim the championship.
“I had no idea what had happened,” Lazas recalled. “I looked at the scoreboard and we started going crazy. My dad runs out and jumps on me and tackled me on the track. I was lying there dead.”
The heptathlon is an indoor track competition consisting of seven events in two days. A 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put and high jump make up the first day. The second day hosts the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault (Lazas’ best event) and the 1,000-meter run. In this meet, Lazas set personal records in the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put and 60-meter hurdles. He also came just two centimeters away from a PR’s in the high jump and pole vault.
Lazas’ success at the collegiate level hasn’t been much of a surprise to people close to him and the Brentwood community. The two-time decathlon state champion didn’t start running track until his freshman year at Brentwood High. The all-around athlete blew his knee out in his first freshman football practice. His sister, Laura, introduced him to track and coach Gary Kinder. After meeting with Kinder, Lazas turned all of his focus to track and field.
After two state championships in the decathlon, Lazas won the Junior Olympics and finished second in Junior Nationals. That allowed him to compete at the Junior World Championships in Canada where he finished 14th, but picked up invaluable experience.
“The fans (at the Junior World’s) were crazy,” Lazas said. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to because I had never been in that situation before, but the Junior Worlds meet set me up really well for college.”
When it came down to select a college to attend, Lazas turned to Kinder. The two narrowed down the top decathlon schools and picked Arkansas over Georgia and Arizona. Arkansas’ facilities, coaches, the business school and commitment to championships were too much to turn down.
“I came to Arkansas and fell in love with it,” Lazas said. “The coaches are unbelievable. They are energetic and out there to make sure that I can be the best that I can be.”
Heading into the summer, Lazas is preparing for his senior year at Arkansas. But as opportunities come up on the horizon, it is difficult not to look forward.
“I’m still going to focus on what I have to do here for Arkansas. I’m going to try to win us another national championship in Outdoors - that’s my first goal,” Lazas said. “Two weeks after Nationals is the World Championship trials for the decathlon. The top four go to the World Championships in Moscow. That’s something that I would love to be a part of. That would be a dream come true.”
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio is also becoming a reality. Then Lazas would be out of school and make track the priority.
“It really hit me this year as training was going so well I thought ‘wow I can really do this. I can make the Olympic team and be in contention for an Olympic medal’. It really gets me fired up and helps me train harder and harder every day.”