Michael Slagowski’s senior track season at Rocky Mountain High produced one national headline after another.
On April 29, 2016, Slagowski became the ninth high school boy to break four minutes in the mile, clocking a time of 3 minutes, 59.53 seconds at the Nike Jesuit Twilight Relays in Portland.
But the start of Slagowski’s much-anticipated collegiate career at Penn State didn’t follow suit, and he will enroll at Eastern Oregon this fall.
A lingering foot injury forced him to redshirt his first season as a Nittany Lion, and he said he never quite adjusted to his new home more than 2,000 miles away from Idaho.
“It was kind of a lot of things,” Slagowski said. “I’d say the overall transition was tough with being injured and the transition to everything, like running, school, being away from home, just all that.”
Slagowski withdrew from Penn State in March and returned home to Idaho.
“I was thinking for a while that I was just going to stay here and just train with my high school coach and maybe try to get a pro contract like next year after I get some good races in after being healthy again,” Slagowski said. “So I was just considering whether to do that or to go back to a school.”
Issues with his big toe resulted in multiple stress fractures in his left foot. He has taken months off at a time from running since he graduated from high school.
Despite the injury, coaches around the country began to contact Slagowski after he left Penn State.
“I was getting a good amount of calls or just messages on Facebook or whatever,” Slagowski said. “I just wasn’t really considering any of that at all at that time.”
Slagowski did not run in March or April. He said his injury isn’t getting any worse, but he doesn’t want to rush his return to competition.
The time off has given Slagowski plenty of time to contemplate his future, and he surprised the track world this week by announcing his decision to continue his career at Eastern Oregon, an NAIA program in La Grande that competes in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.
“I like the coach a lot there and the team. I think that it’s a place where I can reach my potential just as well or better, probably better, than any other school,” Slagowski said. “I’ll still be able to enter all the big meets that I want to, especially postseason meets, because their nationals is a little earlier.
“The training there is really individualized, so I definitely think that I could reach my potential there just as well.”
Ben Welch took over the Mountaineers’ track program in 2002 and has produced 143 NAIA All-Americans, including 24 national champions. Welch has also coached the cross country team since 1991.
Slagowski has the potential to add more to that haul. He owns the second-fastest high school mile time in U.S. history against prep-only competition behind Jim Ryun’s 3:55.30 in 1965. His time ranks No. 7 overall in prep history, according to MileSplit.com.
“It really is about developing him for the long term, and that’s one thing I want people to really understand,” Welch said. “I’m not bringing him in here to run screaming fast this winter and spring and be toast.
“His best years should be after he’s done here, and that’s how we plan on developing him. If he runs a little bit slower early on than what other people think he should, then that’s their problem.”