This sounds like a made-for-Disney underdog story. You know the one.

The kid gets cut from the team. He works as a custodian to support

himself, and he trains on his own. He sees his old teammates on training

runs around town, but he's not allowed to run with them, so they just

wave in passing.

You know where this is going, right?

The kid comes back and shows them all.

It's cliche, but it's Jon Kotter's story,

every bit of it, and now the kid — a senior law student at Brigham Young

University — is one race away from competing in the NCAA track

championships. He can achieve that with a top-12 finish in the NCAA

Regional track and field championships in Austin, Texas, in two weeks.

If recent weeks are any indication, he is up

to the challenge. At the Cardinal Invitational in California, he placed

fourth in his section of the 5,000-meter run, with a time of 14:00.00. A

month later, he returned to Stanford for the Payton Jordan Invitational

and placed seventh in the 10,000 in a field of college and professional

runners. His time of 28:48.33 makes him the third-fastest in BYU

history at that distance. That's no small feat at a school that has

produced Olympic distance runners Doug Padilla, Ed Eyestone, Henry

Marsh, Paul Cummings, Jason Pyrah and Josh McAdams, to name a few.

\"He's had a nice career,\" says Eyestone, now

BYU's distance coach. \"I'm really proud of him. Especially considering

he was a walk-on and we cut him.\"Kotter was a good but unspectacular runner at Alta High School,

placing third and fifth in the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs,

respectively, at the state track championships. That drew no interest

from college coaches.

Kotter served an LDS

Church mission in Rome and ran just twice during the next two years,

which was one too many. During his second run, he tripped and fell to

the asphalt, breaking both elbows.

He returned from his

mission in January 2006 and tried out for BYU's cross-country team that

fall. Collegiate teams are limited by the NCAA (read: Title IX and the

federal government) in the number of athletes they can retain on a

roster, even if they want to run without a scholarship. When Kotter

failed to crack the top 20, he was cut from the team. Rules forbade him

even from practicing with the team.

\"I took a few days to

reevaluate how much time I could commit to running,\" he says. \"I wasn't

doing well in school, and I had to have a job. Still, it was a dream of

mine, so I kept training.\"

Kotter's high school

distance coach, Rob Murphy, recalls, \"He came by my house (after being

cut), and he was upset. He asked if I had any books on training he could

borrow because he was going to have to be his own coach.\"Kotter trained alone for the next few months, sometimes passing the

BYU runners going the other way on the road. \"It was a little

depressing,\" he says. He tried out for the track team in the winter and

this time made the team by winning a 3,000-meter time trial.

Kotter improved steadily but gradually. He

placed sixth in the 5,000 at the indoor conference championships as a

sophomore. He placed in the top five in both the 5K and 3K at last

year's indoor conference meet. This year, BYU took Kotter to his first

outdoor conference championships, where he rewarded the team with a

second-place finish in the 10,000.

In the BYU fieldhouse, there is a board that

contains lists of the top 10 performers in each event. They are daunting

lists, filled with the names of national champions and future

Olympians. Kotter's goal was to put his name on the Top 10 Board, and he

achieved it with his breakthrough 10K at Stanford early this month.

\"During that race, I kept waiting for the

splits to slow down,\" he says. \"I was running a much better pace than we

intended. Halfway through the race, I realized I was probably going to

run a good time. Coach (Eyestone) was on the sideline giving splits (lap

times). He sounded really excited. He was saying things like, 'Kotter,

you're running out of your mind!' 'You're running the race of your

life!' It was really motivating.\"Kotter's final season of collegiate track is all the more impressive

because he is also in his first year of law school. He studies his law

books during road trips with the track team. He was forced to miss the

Mount San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) Relays so he could stay behind to

take final exams in his law classes. A conference scholar-athlete, he

plans to practice corporate law someday.

Meanwhile, he was one

more goal to fulfill: qualifying for the national championships.


E-mail:

drob@desnews.com