Sept. 24, 2003
Most athletes choose their sport and begin training at a young age, some training their whole lives before reaching elite status, but such is not the case for Georgia Tech cross country standout Kyle Rabbitt.
Rabbitt grew up loving sports in general, but his first love was playing basketball. His love for basketball was so great that, at the insistence of his head basketball coach at Landmark Christian School, Willie Reese (now a current Tech men’s basketball assistant coach), he agreed to run cross country in high school, which was a mandatory sport for all would-be varsity basketball players.
“He basically made us run just to get me out there, because he knew that I didn’t want to do it,” said Rabbitt. “I had never seen a cross country race, never seen a track race, and I wasn’t interested whatsoever.” His only knowledge of the sport was that he believed it was in the Olympics, and very few people made money doing it, but all he wanted was to play basketball.
“My main goal in life was to play after high school,” said Rabbitt. What he wasn’t prepared for, however, was how successful he would be at running. That season, Rabbitt finished the year as the No. 3 runner on the team. Following the basketball season, he went on to run track, winning the 800-meter state championship and finishing second in the two-mile event.
It was after the track season that he determined that a change might be in order. “That year, I was playing junior varsity basketball and sitting the bench for the varsity games watching eighth graders starting ahead of me,” recalls Rabbitt. “Coach Reese also saw that my talents lay elsewhere. He convinced me, in a nice way, to steer away from basketball. Obviously he was correct, because there’s not much a 140-pound kid can do on the basketball court.”
Rabbitt went on to become one of the most successful runners at Landmark, as he was a five-time cross country and track state champion. He also earned all-state honors in track and cross country seven times, while earning a spot on the Atlanta Track Club all-metro team five times.
His success didn’t stop there. Reese encouraged him to go after running and to earn a scholarship, and Georgia Tech has reaped the benefits. Rabbitt began his career at Tech in fine fashion, as he was one of the top two Yellow Jacket finishers in each of the first three cross country races of the 2000 season. He had an overall second-place finish in his first race at Tech, just 0.84 seconds behind teammate Joe Stegall, but in his next two races he was the Jackets’ top finisher. Rabbitt recorded the top 8K time in his career in his second race, as he finished sixth overall in 23:58. He followed that up as the top Division I runner at the Georgia Intercollegiates, leading the team to the championship. Rabbitt concluded his successful freshman campaign with his top career 10K time in a 51st-place finish at the NCAA South Regional Championship. After sitting out the indoor track season, Rabbitt began the outdoor campaign of his freshman year by posting the team’s top outdoor time in the 3,000 meters, finishing fifth in the Jesse Owens Classic in 8:38.35. He also placed 16th at the ACC Outdoor Championships in the 10,000-meter race.
Rabbitt again finished around the top of the cross country lineup during his sophomore year. His top finishes included a 39th-place finish at the conference meet and a 16th-place finish in the NCAA South Regional Championships, earning himself NCAA All-South Region honors for the first time in his career.
His breakout season came in the spring of 2002, however, when he emerged at Tech’s top distance runner in both the indoor and outdoor track seasons. That spring, he posted the team’s best times in the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 meters, as well as the outdoor 5,000 and 10,000 meters. He won the 5,000 meters at the Tar Heel Elite Invitational before placing 10th in the 3,000 and 13th in the 5,000-meter races at the ACC Indoor Championships. Rabbitt then won the 5,000-meter race at the Yellow Jacket Invitational and finished seventh in the 10,000 at the conference championships.
After redshirting during cross country last year, Rabbitt had a record-setting indoor track season in 2003. He earned all-conference honors in both the 3,000 and 5,000-meters, setting career and Tech records in both races. His time in the 5,000-meters was also good enough for a provisional qualification for Nationals.
After “taking his running to a whole new level during the track season,” according to cross country head coach Alan Drosky, Rabbitt has high expectations for the 2003 season. “This year, I would really like to be one of the top runners in the country overall,” said Rabbitt. “I’d like to challenge for the win in every meet that I go to.”
This includes the conference meet, which is loaded with one of the top 10,000-meter runners in the country last year, Joep Tigchelaar from Florida State, and NC State All-Americans Andy Smith and Chad Pearson.
“I think that the ACC is deeper than it’s ever been,” Rabbitt said. “I think that it is going to be a great race and I’d love to come out on top of it.” If the past is any indicator, Rabbitt and his teammates should meet their goal of reaching the top half of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, with Rabbitt in the lead. Not bad for someone who never wanted to run in the first place.