Oregon was great, but Leingang ready for new path at NDSU

FARGO-The forecast this week called for a windchill one day in the minus 40s, but Jake Leingang was not fazed by the thought. Then again, there doesn't appear to be much that can raise the blood pressure of one of the greatest runners in North Da...
 Jake Leingang from Bismarck has transferred from the University of Oregon to NDSU. David Samson / The Forum
Jake Leingang from Bismarck has transferred from the University of Oregon to NDSU. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO-The forecast this week called for a windchill one day in the minus 40s, but Jake Leingang was not fazed by the thought. Then again, there doesn't appear to be much that can raise the blood pressure of one of the greatest runners in North Dakota high school history.

It was a clear, crisp day and Leingang was in the Shelly Ellig Indoor Track & Field Complex just days after arriving on campus. North Dakota State has built its flourishing men's and women's track and field programs by developing high school recruits over the course of four to five years, so the fact an All-American transfer from the University of Oregon is going to spend his final two years of track and field eligibility with NDSU is a Christmas of major proportions.

"I grew up with this, so, yeah, it's good to be home," Leingang said of the January weather. "I've been used to it my whole high school career."

It was some career.

The Bismarck High graduate won 11 Class A individual state titles and was prominent on the national circuit winning the 2013 New Balance Nationals in the 5K, as well as a pair of New Balance Nationals Outdoor 5K championships. He was what is commonly called a blue-chip recruit and picked one of the fabled NCAA track programs in Oregon.

"I had a great time at Oregon. It was everything I dreamed it would be," Leingang said.

Everything except the very reason he transferred to NDSU: academics. Leingang was a standout for four years on the Ducks cross country team, but competed for only two years in track. Seeing a need to complete his degree in physical education and health, he decided to take his final two years in both indoor and outdoor to a school that is noted in that academic field.

NDSU hosts the Bison Classic on Saturday, Jan. 14, but Leingang will not be participating. He's still getting acclimated to the move and Bison assistant coach Andrew Carlson, who handles the distance runners, said training Leingang to reach a higher level will be comprehensive and detailed.

"I love the challenge of it, but there's a lot of pressure, too, on my end because I feel like we have to make sure we're on top of our game," Carlson said. "We don't want someone to come into this program with talent and ability and flounder. We need to make sure this person excels at a very high level."

Leingang's personal bests in the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 and the outdoor 5,000 would beat current NDSU school records, a couple of which have been around awhile. His top indoor 5K time of 13 minutes, 46.01 seconds is almost 36 seconds faster than a 31-year-old school record set by Paul LeBlanc in 1985. His best 5K outdoor performance at Oregon of 13:43.04 would easily beat Doug Hanson's school mark of 14:12.19 set in 1991.

At Oregon, he placed ninth in the NCAA Indoor 5K in 2016 and 18th in the Outdoor Championships. He was 12th in the NCAA Outdoor 5K in 2015 as a redshirt freshman.

He said he first thought about transferring at the beginning of last semester when he knew his academic path wasn't what he wanted. Leingang said all involved on the Oregon end, from the coaches to the athletes, were supportive of his move.

"It's hard going to school for something you're not interested in," he said.

It helped that NDSU had Carlson, an elite runner when he was competing in high school, college and beyond. Leingang was impressed how Carlson trained former Bison women's distance ace Erin Teschuk, who improved to the point of representing Canada in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"Andrew was a big help, as soon as I let him know I was thinking about this," Leingang said. "It didn't take much when they said they were interested in me. I knew everything about (NDSU). You can tell they win the Summit almost every year and that will be fun to be part of as well. I'll do my best to help them out and continue that streak."

Carlson was an All-American at the University of Minnesota and a former USA 15K road championship winner. He followed Leingang's career at Bismarck High simply because of the brilliance of it, and never dreamed of one day coaching him.

"Just to compare, take my high school self against Jake's high school self," said Carlson, a standout at Fargo South. "It would be a bloodbath. North Dakota has had some great athletes, but nobody like Jake."

How much of a bloodbath? Leingang ran a 4:05 mile in high school.

"I was not even close to finishing in 4 minutes, 5 seconds," Carlson said.

It didn't hurt that NDSU's track and field facilities have seen a major upgrade. Leingang ran once indoors at the old Bison Sports Arena, which has given way to the modern Ellig building. It's not Oregon, but Leingang appears ready for his new direction.

"I have no regrets. Cross country is a tough sport and I gave my all with all the workouts," he said. "I had a blast while I was there, and I truly thank them for having me out there and giving me an opportunity to compete as a Duck. It's a different city, different campus, different everything, but I still feel like I'm away from home. My family will be a lot closer, I have friends who are closer, and I think having that balance around is going to help me a lot."

Bison Classic

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Shelly Ellig Indoor Track & Field Facility