Will Templeton, Hardin Valley Academy’s male Athlete of the Year for 2011-12, runs in the Volunteer Classic Cross Country Invitational. The two-time state champion and Liberty University signee was unbeaten during his senior season on 5K courses.

By Steve Williams

For someone who didn’t start running cross country until his sophomore year in high school, Will Templeton sure covered a lot of ground in a hurry.

Since the fall of 2009, the Hardin Valley Academy male Athlete of the Year for 2011-12 won two TSSAA state cross country championships and signed scholarship papers with Liberty University, which has won three of the past five NCAA Division 1 individual titles in the sport.

Templeton covered the 5K (3.1 miles) Steeplechase Course at Percy Warner Park in just over 16 minutes (16:00.37) to finish first in Class AAA last November. He bettered his winning time of the previous year by more than five seconds.

Templeton also placed fourth in the 3200-meter run at the state track meet in May.

Will had been a multi-sport athlete in middle school, running only “to train” for football, basketball and soccer, or occasionally “when I was stressed and needed to go for a run.”

Templeton first chose basketball when he got to high school and played on the freshmen team. The following spring, he went for a workout on the track, and that’s where classmate and friend Jake Torgenson saw his potential and suggested he come out for the track team.

“I was out there running the 400 in basketball shoes,” recalled Templeton, who took his friend’s advice. His times during the season were so impressive, “The coach said to me, ‘You need to run cross country.’”

So, that fall, Will was off and running, and ran so well, he was the first state qualifier at the new Hardin Valley school.

Cross country has become a good fit for Templeton, as far as athletics are concerned. His high school coach often indicated the Hawks harrier excelled in the longer distance races and also on the more demanding courses with hilly conditions.

On the collegiate level at Liberty, which is located in Lynchburg, Va., cross country runners compete on an 8K course (5 miles) in the Big South Conference and on 10K courses in NCAA regional and national events. The Liberty Flames have won an unprecedented seven consecutive Big South titles.

“Will is a tenacious but patient runner who ultimately is a true competitor,” said Josh McDougal, assistant coach at Liberty who won the NCAA crown in 2007. “His two state cross country titles were won by 0.11 seconds and 0.91 seconds. You can’t coach that kind of desire. It has to come from within. The ability to find the motivation to dig deeper like that with regularity is very rare.”

Templeton, who ran under head coach Bryan Brown and distance coach Jimmy Mittlestat at Hardin Valley, was undefeated on 5K courses as a senior. His accomplishments included defending his title in the Wendy’s Cross Country Invitational – a large multi-state meet in North Carolina. He posted his best 5K cross country time of 15:27.00 in that event.

On the track, Templeton holds school records in the 800 (1:58.99), 1600 (4:25.98) and 3200 (9:25.84).

In indoor track, he posted a personal best 5K time of 15:27.65 at the 2012 New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York.

Outside of athletics, Templeton also is a talented young man. He was a National Honor Society member, had the lead in the school musical all four years and has been active in student ministry at First Baptist Church of Concord. He took spring break mission and service trips to Chile in 2012 and Hoboken, N.J., in 2010.

In Chile, Will took part in running a sports camp and enjoyed teaching youngsters how to play basketball.

Here in Knoxville, Will has volunteered his time helping Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries and getting involved with kids in the Western Heights area.

The son of Norm and Wendy Templeton, he will attend Liberty on a cross country and track scholarship, and will receive a small academic scholarship as well. His current plans are to major in biology and go into pre-med, but he’s also interested in Liberty’s aeronautics program.

As much as the sport of cross country is a good fit for Templeton, so is Liberty, a private Christian university.

“My passion is serving the Lord anyway I can,” said Will. “Running cross country provides an opportunity for individual accomplishment. But the bottom line is it’s God’s will for me to be in this sport. I’m doing the best I can preparing for the season and running competitively.”

Templeton has been “base training” the past three weeks, putting in miles to build strength. He will top out at 100 to 110 miles a week. Speed work will come later.

“One of the reasons I love cross country is it’s such a free sport,” said Templeton, meaning he has the freedom to run where and when he wants.

Liberty head coach Brant Tolsma was delighted to sign Templeton and fellow freshman recruit Jeremie Bourget of Ontario, Canada, in February.

“Two such additions to a team that potentially returns everyone bodes well for the future,” said Tolsma. “Both Will and Jeremie chose Liberty because of our common spiritual commitments, and therefore I expect that they both will thrive and develop here.”