ROGERSVILLE – Cherokee standout distance runner Austin Kirkpatrick signed a letter of intent with Murray State University at a signing ceremony Wednesday after school in the Cherokee library.

“I’m feeling really good,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m excited.”

Murray State is a Division 1 school located in southwestern Kentucky, in Murray, Ky. Kirkpatrick knew that was the school for him after one visit.

“The flu had been going around and he didn’t feel good the week he was supposed to go up,” recalled his mother, Lisa Kirkpatrick. “But he was like, ‘Mom, let’s go anyway’ because he had his heart set on one school.

“We got there and the next morning he met with the team, kind of did a couple of workouts. He called me a few hours later and said, ‘Mom, this is where I belong. This is where I fit,’” she said.

“It’s a little, small town kind of like Rogersville, but it has a D-1 school implanted in it. The entire community has been nice. It was a perfect fit. The team was great,” she said.

“They had little challenges they had to do that night when he spent the night with them and the smile on his face the next morning when I went to see him, I knew that was where he was meant to be,” she said.

“I really loved the small-town feel of the town around it and the school,” Austin said. “Everybody’s loving and they all took me in. The cross country team is only ten guys, but those ten guys, I talked to everybody around there and they said they’re inseparable.”

Kirkpatrick plans to pursue studies in wildlife conservation and law enforcement.

“He’s wanted to do that for the last year and a half, and that was one of the things figuring out where we were going to do our visits, was somewhere that had a good wildlife program, and that was one of the big things about Murray State,” said Lisa.

“They actually have a wildlife law enforcement degree. So not many schools offer that. I’m excited. It’s well-worth all the work,” she said.

“Huntin’, fishin’ – I’ve always done it my entire life and I’ve loved it,” Kirkpatrick said. “I was going to go and try to pursue a veterinarian degree, but I found out how much schooling there had to be, so I went with my second option and I love it.

“Hopefully, I’ll get that and find a job out west and get a job being a game warden in Wyoming, Montana or Colorado. I’ve had that interest for a couple years,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick, who was a four-year member of Cherokee’s cross country and track teams, will only represent Murray State in cross country. He will still compete in track, but independently.

“I’ll be doing track, unattached,” he said. “Due to the student, boy-girl ratio, they had to take out the men’s track team.”

Fittingly, Murray State’s mascot are called “The Racers.” Kirkpatrick’s name is all over the Cherokee record book in cross country and track.

“He’s a record-breaker and a powerhouse for Cherokee High School, a runner like we’ve not seen since the early 80s,” said Cherokee track coach Chad Laster. “He’s the fastest runner we’ve had in the history of the school in many events.

“He holds eight indoor track records, six outdoor track records and of course, the cross country record. Before he came here, the last time we saw that kind of speed was back in the early ‘80s, Vic Losure, who eventually went on to West Point to graduate,” Laster said.

“We had some others through the years, off and on, Ken York in the ‘90s, who still holds our 800-meter record. But Austin ranks up there as the best we’ve seen through these school hallways in 40 years,” Laster said.

“He’s done an excellent job, worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been here. He’s always giving everything he has. He doesn’t hold back. He knows the strategy of the race, how to train right before the race,” Laster said.

“All around, he’s just a great, great person. He’s involved in more activities than I can count. He’s real involved in the community. He always does a good job of lifting his teammates up, no matter who they are. He’s always there to try to help them get better,” Laster said.

“That’s what you want out of any athlete is somebody that’s going to be there to help their teammates. That’s just a great leader. It shows a lot of great qualities about him as an individual as much as a runner,” said Laster.

The distance increases in college cross country from 5K runs in high school.

“I’ll be running 8K and 10K, 8K throughout the season and 10K the last two races, regional and if I make nationals,” Kirkpatrick said.

Laster doesn’t foresee any trouble with Kirkpatrick adapting to the next level.

“Moving forward, I think his potential to grow is a lot,” Laster said. “With some runners, they’ve grown so much in high school, they still have potential to grow but maybe not a whole lot. But with Austin, I think there’s a great potential still there to grow quite a bit once he starts working at this full-time under a collegiate coach.

“What a lot of these athletes in high school don’t realize, no matter what sport it is, once you start competing at the collegiate level, you’re going to have early, a.m. workouts in the weight room, afternoon practices, and somewhere in between all that, you’re going to have to go to class and do your homework, eat and sleep and repeat every day,” Laster said.

“Once they start doing that, they’re going to grow so much more. We’ve seen that in the past several years, we’ve had nine other college signees from track and field. And we’ve seen all those people as they’ve gotten into the weight room and other full-time habits, they begin to grow tremendously. I think we’re going to see that out of him, as well,” Laster said.

Lisa Kirkpatrick is not only Austin’s mom, but has served as his cross country coach.

“It’s been rewarding watching all the hard work that he does and watching him go out and have to do the runs and getting his times, and the dedication. It’s been rewarding as a mom to have such a dedicated kid,” she said.

“I think this year he came around and had a respect for it because he knows this is the last year, this is the last time we get to hang out like that. Now he’s going to be going to races I won’t be at. I think he’s enjoyed this year,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said those times will be first and foremost when he recalls his time at Cherokee.

“By far, it’s going to be the memories I made with the track team and the cross country team,” Austin said. “I just loved it here and I hope to do my stuff and donate back and help the school.”

Kirkpatrick said he really enjoyed the comradery and fellowship shared during track meets’ laid-back times.

“It’s really good. That’s what I love about the sport. You’re a big family, but you can still battle it out and hug the guy at the end of the race,” he said.

Kirkpatrick still has some unfinished business before going to Murray State, one more track and field season at Cherokee, which is right around the corner, as well as another indoor track season.

“This year, I’m hoping to make state,” he said. “I was one place off last year. If I make state this year, it’s going to be really important and hopefully medal at indoor state this year.”

Then it’s off to Murray State for its newest Racer.