The Transition: Cole Sprout's Journey From HS To College

Editor's Note: Cole Sprout graduated from Valor Christian in 2020 with seven state titles (and this was without his senior track season.) 

After a prolific career at Valor, Sprout went on to Stanford University, where he's continued to improve. Last winter he finished fifth in the indoor 5,000 at the NCAA D1 Indoor Championships. He followed that up with a fourth-place finish in the 10,000 at the NCAA D1 Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

He recently broke four-minutes in the (indoor) mile, running a personal best of 3:56.53 at the UW Preview. The time is currently the second-fastest run in Division 1 this season.

Lauren Cawley caught up with Sprout for our new series The Transition, and talked to him about his journey from being among the best in high school, to among the best in college.

Stanford Career Accolades

  • Five-time All-American
  • Two-time West Region XC team champions (2021, 2022)
  • Two-time Pac-12 XC team champions (2020-21, 2022)
  • All-West Region XC (2021)
  • Two-time All-Pac-12 XC first team (2020-21, 2022)
  • All-Pac-12 XC second team (2021)
  • Two-time USTFCCCA All-Academic (XC 2021; T&F 2022)
  • Four-time Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll (XC 2021; T&F 2021, winter 2022, spring 2022)
Personal Bests
  • 5,000: 13:24.38i
  • 10,000: 27:42.42
  • 3,000: 7:43.10i
  • Mile: 3:56.53i
  • Two mile: 8:46.41
  • 1,500: 3:42.27
  • 800: 1:51.79

LC) Being how successful you were in high school, what was it like going to college and having to really battle again?

CS) I've always trained alone, I didn't really have a team where I could train with a lot of the other guys, so I was just doing a lot of workouts by myself...

My sophomore year, I won my first state title in cross country and won every state championship title after that through to my senior year, so being one of the top guys in the state and just being one of those guys was a big adjustment going from there to the college scene, I kind of had to start on the bottom again and work my way back up.

I would say now just being able to train with a lot of the guys who push me day in and day out, that was one of the reasons I chose Stanford, really just having a lot of people who were better than me who could push me in a way that I really couldn't. That was a big piece that I was missing in high school and have really enjoyed the past few years being in college.

LC) When you first got to Stanford, what would you say was the biggest difference that you noticed in your training? Did your mileage drastically go up?

CS) It's pretty much different in every way, but I'd say in general it's just a lot more... Mileage-wise, I was doing around 50 miles a week my senior year of high school, maybe a little more, and now I've bumped up to 90 miles a week in college.

This has all taken place over the course of the past three years, so that was bumping up mileage-wise and then workouts are just a lot more intense - you're running faster paces because it's so much more competitive in college. With that, more volume as well, so it's just longer and harder workouts basically.

It definitely took a bit to adjust to that, being a freshman in college, the first few workouts I was definitely questioning myself a lot, but that's all just a part of it, you get thrown into the deep end a bit and then you just find a way to make it through.

Eventually you'll build up that base and build up mileage, pretty soon you're feeling pretty comfortable running those paces and you're able to start pushing yourself. Like I said, having the guys on the team to really just push me is helpful, it makes it a lot more doable. It's a cool dynamic to have.

LC) How would you say your mindset has shifted going from training alone to having a really close bond with your teammates, on and off the track?

CS) Going into college and training with the guys for the first time, I kind of realized what I had really missed out on all four years of high school.

One of the big things I've learned since going to Stanford is to just be more team-oriented, that's something I've always wanted in a collegiate team. I've had to learn how to put others before myself and be a little bit less selfish in the workouts.

I would say that this comes from doing it by myself in high school, I almost had to re-train myself to not just be doing my own thing all of the time.

If some of the guys are struggling on certain days but you're feeling good, you might have to re-evaluate what paces you're hitting and all of that, it's all just a lot more relational. There's a big communication aspect of it that I've had to learn and get better at, and continue to get better at...

And, I mean, these guys are some of my best friends, we spend most of the days together even outside of practice, I live with my teammates and we all work so well together, so that's fun as well.

LC) What was it like being moving so far away from home and leaving your support system?

CS) Yeah, it was definitely tough, I'd say, though, it was a little different for me than a typical college experience from the start.

This is because my freshman year we didn't have any in-person classes, so that fall quarter, me and a bunch of the team lived in Park City, Utah, and just trained together, so that was a bit of a more gentle segue with just getting used to the college life and the team...

Editor's Note: Sprout's first semester in college was the Fall of 2020.

But being away from my family for the first time was definitely hard, I mean I've never been away from home for that long before, so that was a pretty big adjustment for me for sure. I'm really close with my family, so you know, it was exciting to go to school, but I realized after so many weeks of being away from home how much I missed my parents and sister. It definitely made me appreciate all of that a lot more.

LC) What advice would you give your younger self/current high school athletes that plan to run in college?

CS) If there's any advice I could give to a current high schooler, it's just to be patient.

For me, I had a tendency of trying to compare myself to a lot of the older guys who were either still in high school or already in college and what they were doing... And kind of just questioning why I wasn't at that level yet.

I lost a bit of perspective on what it was that I should've been doing in the moment, so I would say to really just enjoy those moments that you still do have in high school, mainly because it has just flown by for me in college compared to high school, just the past few years have felt like they just progressively get faster and faster. So really just enjoy those moments you have and take advantage of every opportunity you have.