AMERICAN FORK — In December, Casey Clinger did what no other high school cross-country runner has ever done, by winning the Nike National Championship a second time.
This week, the BYU-bound runner made history again when he became the first Utahn to win the Gatorade National Cross Country Runner of the Year.
He found out he’d earned the honor Thursday when he was stopped by police on the way to practice around 6 a.m.
After asking Clinger to step out of the car, the officer pulled the national trophy from the back of Clinger’s car and presented it to him with cameras rolling.
“I had no clue,” said Clinger, who enjoyed a ceremony at the high school later that morning. He was shocked and honored by earning the award, which singles out athletes who’ve not only excelled in their sport but also are outstanding students and active in community service.
“Just knowing all the people who’ve gotten it before me, they’re all studs,” Clinger said on the video honoring him. “And it’s just an honor.”
Clinger could be one of the state’s most accomplished runners, as he not only won his second consecutive national title with a time of 15:28.4, but also the 5A state title in October, setting a course record of 14:42.9. He won Nike Regionals and finished his high school career with 15 straight victories that date to the 2015 season. He also has a 4.0 GPA.
On Feb. 1, Clinger sat alongside his teammates and 19 other athletes as they signed their paperwork to attend college on athletic scholarships. It's the largest group of athletic scholarships the high school has produced.
Clinger, like several of his cross-country teammates, chose BYU, a nationally ranked school that no doubt gets better with the infusion of talent from American Fork’s nationally ranked men’s team and the 5A state championship girls team.
Clinger said he chose BYU about a month ago but didn’t announce his decision for a couple of weeks.
“I decided to just make a decision in my head, and wear it for a couple of weeks, to see how I felt about it,” Clinger said on National Signing Day. “I felt really good, and I was really happy about it. So I called Ed (Eyestone, BYU coach) and committed.”
Clinger now becomes a finalist for the National Gatorade Athlete of the Year Award, which is announced in July.