WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi hurdler Garrett Gerling made it official Wednesday: the next leap of his track career will take him to Washington State University.
A day before his 19th birthday, Gerling signed his letter of intent, making him the first Wa-Hi graduate to commit to a Pac-10 team since Thomas Kelati went to the Cougar basketball team in 2001.
"My dad has always been a Cougar fan and I've wanted to be in Division I track," Gerling said. "When they talked to me, I was really excited."
Blue Devil track and field coach Eric Hisaw said Gerling's pick was an excellent choice for the recent graduate.
"Garrett is going to get a world-class hurdle coach in Mark MacDonald for the next four to five years," Hisaw said of the WSU assistant coach. "Mark was an all-American when he ran under (current WSU head coach) Rick Sloan. He has a first class program and they do things right. They have always been successful over there."
The Cougar team has some of the top hurdlers in nation, including two-time NCAA 400 meter champion Jeshua Anderson.
Hisaw said practicing and competing at the Pac 10 level will benefit the 6-foot-4 Gerling, who will compete in the 400 meter hurdles.
"He has such a wonderful opportunity and he knows where he wants to be," Hisaw said. "There is going to be a lot of growth and again more strength to gain, but he sees the big picture and by junior/senior year, he will get the chance to be really tough."
Gerling was not initially recruited by many schools and was never assured of competing at the Division I level.
But when a breakout performance in April at the Pasco Invite in the 110 and 300 hurdles propelled him to first and second in the state standings, Gerling suddenly found himself mentioned in the upper echelon of Washington track athletes.
It was then Gerling knew he had what it took to compete at the highest level.
"After the Pasco Invite, when my times dropped dramatically, I was like ‘Wow, I can actually do this,'" Gerling said.
"I knew at that meet that there was no question in my mind that he could run at the Pac-10 level," he said.
Gerling finished the year with school records of 14.31 in the 110 and 37.77 in the 300 hurdles. He set a regional record in the 300 hurdles and lost his first meets at state, when he placed third in the 110 and sixth in the 300.
Gerling was heavily recruited by the Cougars and was contacted by the rival University of Washington.
A tour of the Washington State campus and athletic facilities, and a talk with former opponent and current WSU hurdler Dana Wells, helped convince Gerling to commit to the school two of his grandparents attended.
"I went up and visited and went through the whole process and really it was like ‘Wow, I really want to go here,'" Gerling said.
Gerling starts college life Aug. 23, when he moves into Streit-Perham and suits up in crimson and gray for the fall indoor track season.
A legacy will go with him - not only school records and league titles, but a kind of substance that has made Gerling distinctive in Hisaw's memories.
"He is very humble, does not like to talk about himself or be talked about," Hisaw said. "He has that quiet confidence. He has been just a joy. He is the kind of kid you could leave with a chalkboard of instructions and you know it's going to get done. One of the hardest working kids I have had in my 12 or 13 years here in any sport that I have coached.
"He is a warrior, a competitor and a phenomenal person to be around."
Gerling, who was diagnosed in 2006 with Long QT Syndrome, plans on studying pre-med and hopes to one day become an electrophysiologist.