Prep Newsmaker: Harrison shines at state meet
Kirtland Central freshman tops off superb regular season with third-place finish at state
KIRTLAND — A year ago, Kirtland Central’s Kashon Harrison contemplated quitting cross-country.
As an eighth-grader in 2014, Harrison was disqualified from the middle school district meet for competing in nine races when New Mexico Activities Association rules only allow eight per season. Harrison got so down that he considered quitting the sport to take up basketball.
Exactly one year and one week after last year’s disqualification, Harrison stood on the podium Saturday in Albuquerque as the third-fastest runner in the 4A state meet. His placement was the highest for a freshman in Kirtland Central's history.
Vernon Harrison, the freshman's father and a former cross-country standout at KC from 1999-2001, said he gave his son a piece of advice the day he was disqualified.
“One thing I really told him that day was, ‘You don’t even know how fast you are,’” Vernon Harrison said. “You can come back stronger and better and do some special things.”
Harrison not only heeded his father’s advice, but around the same time, he found a whole new source of motivation thanks to Lenny Esson, his future high school cross-country coach.
“I took Kashon to the state meet last year, and I explained to him, ‘I’d like for you to come along so you can see this environment,’” Esson said. “I think he benefited from that. He was able to see that level of competition that fueled his fire. It kind of restored that desire in him.”
Once he decided to stick with cross-country, becoming mentally stronger jumped to the top of Harrison’s off-season objectives list. His dad went a long way in helping him achieve that goal.
“I had to train his mind before I could help train his body, and that’s where a lot of his success comes from,” Vernon Harrison said. “Self-confidence was big for him. And knowing things aren’t always going to go your way is something he had to brace for.”
The physical and mental training paved the way for an incredible freshman season from Harrison.
In the nine races he ran — NMAA rules allow high school athletes to run in 10 races a season — he placed sixth once, third once, second three times and first four times, including winning an individual district title.
“He went above and beyond my expectations this year,” coach Esson said.
There were some bumps in the road for Harrison this season — bumps that would have been positive milestones for almost all other freshmen in the state.
Esson pointed to Harrison’s second-place finish in Gallup on Oct. 2 and his season-worst, sixth-place run in Rio Rancho on Oct. 17 as instances this year in which Harrison had to really channel his newfound mental strength.
“He was kind of down on himself after those meets, but I think being humbled was good for him,” Esson said. “I always remind my players that it’s important to respect the competition. I think that’s something he got better at kind of accepting and understanding as the season went on.”
Decked out in red face paint, which he referred to as “running warrior paint,” Harrison had an extraordinary showing at state. But by his standards, his race wasn’t even a good one.
“When I put on that paint, it was like protection to me from the other runners. I wore it to make sure I had a good race,” Harrison said. “But, somehow, it was a bad race for me. I went through the first mile slow and had to try and catch up.”
Had Harrison been an upperclassman, Esson said, he may have been disappointed in the race's result.
“Being that he was only a freshman, it was definitely a great result,” Esson said. “I think he can look at it as another humbling experience, because whether you win a race or lose a race, you always have an opportunity to learn from it and approach it a different way the next time out.”
Harrison already has plans to build on his phenomenal first-year accomplishments. He said he wants to improve his speed and his kick for next year. He’s also maintaining a humble mindset going into his sophomore season.
“I’m going to do a lot of running through the mountains in high elevation, that helps my cardio and speed,” Harrison said. “I know there’s a lot of really good competition around here. I can’t stop trying to get better.”
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
A closer look: Kashon Harrison
1. Favorite team?
"I don't have one."
2. Favorite athlete?
3. Favorite food?
4. Favorite movie?
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Biggest fear?
"I can't really think of one."
8. Do you play any other sports?
9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"Buy a nice house and save the rest."
10. Do you have any pregame rituals?
"I usually read Steve Prefontaine quotes. Besides that, I eat, pray and warm up with my teammates."