It was an idea senior captain Jason Mohr proposed to Adams State University cross country coach Joe Vigil in the beginning of the 1992 season, the school’s first as an NCAA member.
“(Mohr) told me he felt the team needed to run for something,” Vigil said. “He came up with the idea that we needed to have the first seven guys be able to touch each other, no matter the workout — whether it was a tempo run or the team was doing repeats. He felt it would really help with the team mentality, so all year that was their focus.”
Rain had made the Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, course muddy, and the race started with flat terrain over the first 200 to 300 meters. However, the course then went up a steep hill, allowing runners to more easily see who was around them.
“In training, Coach Vigil always used to tell us, ‘If you can’t touch your teammate in front of you, you are not doing your job,’ ” then-sophomore Peter De La Cerda said. “I was running with a couple of my teammates, but as we went up the hill I could see the remainder of them ahead of me, so we picked up the pace to join them.”
The majority of the team was able to maintain the pace, and by the time the race reached the 5-mile point in the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) race, Adams State had six of the top eight runners. Then, as they headed down the final hill, Western State Colorado University’s Philip Spratley was the only non-Adams State harrier among the top six runners.
Phillip Castillo ultimately edged De La Cerda by one second to claim the individual title in a time of 32:24, with David Brooks, Paul Stoneham and Jason Mohr finishing in one-second intervals to complete the sweep. Spratley finished five seconds after Mohr.
The NCAA has run 283 cross country championships in its history, both men’s and women’s, across all three divisions, and only two other times has a team won with fewer than 20 points.
“Looking back, it is obviously something very special to be the only one to have done it,” De La Cerda said.
Twenty-four years have passed since the team’s perfect race, and Vigil says he is just as proud of what those runners have accomplished off the course.
“They were really a great bunch of guys, and all have gone on to be very successful in life,” said Vigil, who wrapped up his college coaching career at Adams State in 1993 with a second Division II title.
Castillo is a major in the U.S. Army, now stationed in Alaska. De La Cerda is a teacher and coach in Alamosa, Colorado. Mohr is a research analyst for the legislative environmental policy office in the Montana Statehouse. Stoneham is a fitness director in Fort Worth, Texas. And Brooks has a doctorate in history and is the associate director of conservation at Montana Trout Unlimited.