By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
One day on a soccer field, Colton Austria discovered that he was a diamond in the rough in a different sport, when he realized he possessed sprinter’s speed, but not a technician’s handle for dribbling the ball.
He was a freshman at Waiakea and changed shoes the next Big Island Interscholastic Federation season, joining the track and field team. He landed perfectly in a comfort zone, and that eventually led to a scholarship at Trinity Lutheran College.
“From soccer, I found out that I was really fast but didn’t have ball-control,” said Austria, who plans to major in digital media. “Track gave me a shot to win something.
“I like the sprints and going fast. My proudest accomplishment would be just winning something at the BIIF championships, doing pretty good and making state qualifying times.”
He ran the 100, 200 and 400 meters and was part of the 400 and 1,600 relay teams for the Warriors, who finished third in the team standings at the BIIF championships.
It was not a smooth journey for the 2013 graduate to land a scholarship that covers 60 percent of his tuition at the school in Everett, Wash., which is starting a track and field program for the 2013-14 season.
As a sophomore, Austria was a sponge, soaking up pointers and learning that track events are more than just running fast. He sat out his junior year with a heart murmur that he fixed with physical therapy and old-fashioned hard work.
“I would go to physical therapy and run on a treadmill with electrodes attached to me,” he said. “After a while, I started feeling a little better. There’s no trace of it.
“My goal for my senior year was try my hardest and break 11 seconds in the 100. It didn’t happen and I didn’t know how my season would go after not running for a year. But I started doing good from the beginning.
“In my first meet, I ran 11.3 and I was pretty pleased with that. In the 200, I was practically setting a PR (personal record) at every meet.”
His resolve from rehab paid off in his senior season. Austria won his first individual medals, a pair of silvers, in the 100 and 200 at the BIIF championships. In both races, he set PRs.
However, his up-and-down ride of circumstances continued. For the first time, Austria posted qualifying times for the 100 and 200 at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state track and field championships.
Before states, he was running at his peak. He was coming off PR marks in his two favorite events. He bolted to a blistering time of 11.04 seconds in the 100 and 22.49 in the 200 at the BIIF championships.
Austria had an off-day at the one-shot deal that is the state preliminaries and didn’t qualify for the eight-field finals in both events. His 100 PR would have brought home state gold and his 200 PR another silver medal.
“I was devastated with my times,” he said. “I ran the slowest times I ran all year. Everybody had an off-day in the 100 and 200. Everybody was a little slower in both events.”
But hard work always has it rewards, even if it’s not a shiny medal. Trinity coach Matt Koenigs took notice of Austria’s profile on ncsasports.org. He believes his new recruit will be a game-changer.
The Eagles are members of the National Christian College Athletic Association, but will soon upgrade. The school will join the NAIA for the 2014-15 season. The competition figures to be tougher and that’s when Koenigs wants to unleash Austria.
“What really has me excited about Colton is that he has the personality and drive that we are looking for,” Koenigs said. “You can look him in the eyes and see the fire right away. It is clear that he is determined to achieve his goals and that he is going to work very hard to be the best student-athlete that he can become.
“Colton is going to be one of the critical building blocks for our new program. He has the speed to be a huge contributor on a very good 4x100 relay and as an individual he has the wheels to score a lot of points in the 100 and 200.
“This year we will redshirt Colton until we have joined the NAIA and the Cascade College Conference. The competition will be stiff but I think he has the potential to eventually be able to compete at the NAIA national championship meet.”
Koenigs is getting more than a fast sprinter and hard worker. Along with warm clothes, Austria also will bring his team-first mindset. That’s an intangible gem his Waiakea coach Mary Jane Tominaga proudly points to.
“He’s a hard worker,” she said. “I wish we had more like him. He’s very respectful, willing to do what he’s told, and doesn’t fear anything. He keeps his composure and he’s really encouraging.
“He was a good role model for the underclassmen. He’s really coachable. That’s why I think he broke his records. He’s willing to learn and he applies what he soaks up.”
The Warrior-turned-Eagle nods to his dad Stanley Austria, who works for General Electric, as his biggest influence.
“He raised me and when I was younger he wouldn’t let me eat bad food. He would buy me organic stuff,” Austria said. “That shaped me. When I got the scholarship, my dad was happy for me.”
Austria visited the campus in March, two months before the state championships. He found the 30-degree weather to his liking and an easy bond with Koenigs.
As a welcoming gift, the Eagles coach handed a can of Spam to his new recruit. He’s hoping to introduce Austria to salmon fishing in the nearby local rivers.
“I flew up in March. It’s a nice little town,” Austria said. “I kind of liked the cold weather. My coach is a nice guy. He’s laid-back and bought me a can of Spam. I ate it straight from the can.
“What I learned from track was how to become a leader my senior year. My coaches (MJ Tominaga and her husband Lance Tominaga) used me as an example, having perfect form and letting me coach the underclassmen. I felt good about myself that the coaches could trust me. And when my Trinity coach gave me the track scholarship, I was excited.”