Jakob Hiett signs to run at University of Portland

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home cross-country and track star Jakob Hiett signed a letter of intent Tuesday, April 21, to run for the University of Portland.

He is the second Sweet Home athlete to sign to compete at a NCAA Division I school this year, following Tyler Schilling, who plans to wrestle at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Hiett, who won the 4A cross-country championship last fall – the first Sweet Home boy to do so, finished second in the 3000 (8:45.15) at state as a junior after winning his third district title.

He was third at state in the 1500 after a runner-up finish at district for the third year in a row. His personal best in the 1500 is 4:02.06, set in last year’s district championship.

The University of Portland, located on a bluff above the Willamette River in the northwest corner of the city, is not as storied a program as the University of Oregon, but the Pilots placed third at the NCAA nationals last fall, three spots ahead of the Ducks – after winning their 33rd West Coast Conference championship.

The Pilots are one of only four teams in the country to finish in the top 14 at the NCAAs for eight consecutive years, joining Northern Arizona, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. Portland’s previous best finish was seventh, which happened in 2001, 2008 and 2013.

That was one of the attractions for Hiett, he said.

“I’d heard that they had a really good program,” he said. “A guy my parents are friends with, his daughter went to UP and really liked it there. So I checked it out and I really liked it. It was between Gonzaga and UP. I really liked it.”

He said he likes the distance emphasis at UP, where the men’s team does most of its training on trails in Forest Park.

Despite the fact that UP is primarily a distance track school, at the end of March, the Pilot men were ranked 42nd in the nation, the second-highest ranked WCC school in the poll behind BYU at 27th.

“It was definitely a cross-country, long distance-oriented program,” said Hiett, who is planning to major in biology, on a pre-med track.

UP Coach Rob Conner, in his 24th year at the school, said the Pilots are a good fit for talented runners who are interested in academics.

“I think we have a different option for some people – pre-med, engineers – those are kids who want to come here. Obviously, when a guy has a 4.0 and is interested in pre-med, we want him to come here for academics. We’ll fit his running around that.”

Conner and Sweet Home Coach Billy Snow said Hiett has not run high mileage in high school, which is a plus, considering his accomplishments.

“The best thing about him is untapped talent,” Conner said. “He’s done really low mileage. We’ll have to be patient with him.”

Normally, he said, freshmen at UP redshirt as they move up to longer distances in cross-country, in which men normally race five or six miles instead of the three they run in high school. Hiett may compete in track as a freshman.

“Mile for mile, he’s as good as anybody in the state, probably,” Conner said.

Snow has a similar read on Hiett.

“People look at Jakob and see the finished product,” he said. “I don’t think they see the amount of hours that he’s put in – on his own, especially in the last three years. He’s basically had to do it on his own. He hasn’t had that crew (of runners with comparable ability) with him the last few years.

“When we said, ‘This is what we want you running,’ that’s what he ran. It’s really rare when you can do that with high school kids. It’s hard for them to see that big-picture thing.”

Hiett said he’s interested in running the steeplechase in college.

“(Conner) kind of lets guys choose what they want to do,” he said. “I’d kind of like to start steeplechasing.

“My mileage is going to go way up. He thinks I’m a little bit undertrained, mileage-wise, so it’ll definitely pay off, he thinks. I think so too.”

Hiett joins several other talented high school seniors who have signed with UP for next fall.

Another who signed this month is Caleb Webb of Big Bear, Calif., one of the top high school distance runners in the nation. Webb was third at last year’s Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, where he ran 15:21 over the 5K course. He finished third at the Arcadia Invitational in the 3200 meters in 8:52, the third-best time in the nation.

Three others who have signed with Portland for 2015 in men’s cross country team are: Erik Wingfield of Timber Creek High School in Keller, Texas, who has run 9:13.38 in the 3200; Nick Doan of Great Oak High School in Temecula, Calif., who has run 9:05.86 in 3000, 4:11.45 in the 1600, and was second at the giant Mt. SAC Invitational cross-country invitational in 14:51 over 5000 meters (with a nasty hill) at the end last fall; and Tristan Peloquin of Gig Harbor High School in Washington, who was first at the Nike Pre Nationals in 15:16.

Snow said he thinks Portland will be “a great opportunity” for Hiett.

At the signing ceremony in the school library Tuesday, Snow recalled when Hiett was in junior high and “he’s coming down with the big kids and running cross-country. He might have weighed 100 with a 20-pound weight in his pocket.”

When Hiett was a sophomore, Snow said, “we always asked the kids after cross-country, ‘What are you going to do this winter?’ We were trying to get them to swim or wrestle or do whatever. Jakob had played basketball his freshman year, but he said ‘I’m not going to play basketball.’

“I said, ‘Why not?’

“He said, ‘I want to see how far this running thing can take me.’

“And here he is. He’s not done yet.””