FUS senior Bill Jones runs well at Division III national championships

LA CROSSE, Wis. – In his final race wearing the Franciscan University of Steubenville uniform, senior Bill Jones finished second in the 5K at the Division III National Track and Field Outdoor Championships wearing one shoe at Roger Harring Stadium at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex on Saturday.

Two days after taking sixth in the 10K, Jones ran 14:27.26 in the 5K to become a two-time All-American.

A competitor stepped on Jones’ heel during the second lap.

“I was thinking, ‘can I get it back on?'” said Jones. “Then I realized, ‘Oh no, it’s coming off,’ so I just ditched it.”

Jones considered stopping to adjust the spike but remembered doing the same thing and falling far behind at his state championships for cross country during his junior year of high school.

“My bare foot with the sock on it felt so awkward, but I just didn’t let it get to me,” Jones said. “I thought, ‘Well, now the shoe is off, let’s just try to do as well as I can without it.'”

Jones maintained a steady pace until the final stretch, when he distanced himself from the rest of the pack to cross the finish line less than two seconds behind the leader.

Head track and field coach Vince Oliver said that the senior successfully followed his strategy to simply stay with the pack for most of the race, relying on his ability to pull ahead at the end.

“We knew there were only one or two guys that had a 1500 meter kick equal to or better than his, so we just wanted to see what the pack did and how his body was going to react after running the 10k on Thursday,” Oliver said, adding that for the first few laps the pack seemed to be waiting for Jones to take the lead and set the pace as he had done in Thursday’s 10k race.

“Bill would have none of it,” Oliver said. “He ran the smartest race of his life.”

In his final race for FUS, Jones was determined to not get caught up in an emotional battle.

“I thought, ‘this is just another race,'” Jones said. “I’m just going to run and not think about what’s next. That’s the mentality you have to have. You can’t let emotional things drain you, because they will.”

Oliver also helped motivate Jones to make the most of his final collegiate race.

“I told him, ‘This it. Do the best that you can, leave it all out on the track, and have no regrets when you cross the finish line.’ And boy did he listen,” Oliver said.

Jones’s performance in the two races earned FUS 11 points, placing the Barons in 19th place out of 79 Division III teams. Jones was the only Baron competing in the three- day-long meet.

Jones said he was pleased to be able to put the team and the school in such a prominent place on the national level.

“I feel so happy to have represented my team, because it’s not just me that got the points,” Jones said. “I felt the prayers and support of my teammates coming to help me do as well as I did. Even when there’s one person representing our school, it’s still a team effort. “

Oliver said Jones has been a bright light for FUS athletics for the past five years.

“Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime type of athlete,” Oliver said. “In 45 years I can’t say I’ve ever met a kid that works harder than him and is more dedicated to his sport, his faith, and everything that he does. He’s just an all-around solid man.”

Oliver added that the opportunity to coach Jones, particularly through the past two national championships, has been humbling.

“Everybody starts with one goal in mind: to get somebody to the big show,” Oliver said. “We’ve been blessed for two years in a row. It’s been an incredible journey.”

For the FUS graduate, however, the journey is not at an end. Jones said that having finally overcome his mental barrier at nationals, he plans to continue to compete at open meets and see what other opportunities lie ahead.

“Overall, it’s been a great career and I’ve learned a lot about myself, not only as a runner but as a man of God,” Jones said. “I’m going to just take it one day at a time and see how well I can do.”

In the 10K on Thursday, Jones took the race in hand early.

He ran his his first mile split in 4:37, approximately three to eight seconds faster than his usual 10K pace.

“I did not want to sit behind,” Jones said. “I wanted it to be fast, I wanted the guys to work, and I wanted it to be a gutsy race. It ended up being just that.”

Jones maintained the lead for the first 20 of the 25-lap race and eventually was sixth in 30:08.76.

He finished 15th a year ago at 31:54.46.

“This is the first nationals where I’m not thinking, ‘Oh man, I really kind of blew it,'” Jones said, referring to his frustration after last year’s race and the past two cross country national championships where he placed 115th and 77th. “This time I prepared to the best of my ability, better than I have for any other national competition, and I wasn’t disappointed.”

Oliver said it was thanks to ideal pre-race mental and physical preparation that Jones ran the race he wanted to run, despite the pressure of holding the lead throughout.

“I told him before the race that the guy who leads most of the race doesn’t generally win in a tight competition like this, but he stuck with his strategy,” Oliver said. “If he was going to get beat, they were going to have to work hard to beat him.”

Oliver said that Jones is a rare breed of champion.

“It’s more than just being No. 1,” Oliver said. “It’s more than just winning the race. It’s being a person as well-rounded as he is. Bill is a champion every single day, even before he gets on the track.”

This attitude is rooted in what Jones says is his reason for running: to give glory to God. Jones and several other 10k runners demonstrated this belief when they gathered for a post-race prayer. The FUS athlete said the knowledge that he shared a common goal with his competitors was uplifting.

“I was inspired by the amount of respect and charity all those guys were showing toward each other before and after the race,” Jones said. “It just goes to show that we all want each other to do well. Some were also making it known that they were running for the glory of God. We need more athletes like that.”