Prep track: Kooiker signs with Northern Iowa

Fairfield High School’s Landon Kooiker (front, center) signed a national letter of intent Thursday to compete for the Northern Iowa track and field program next season. Also pictured (front row) are his parents, Aaron Kooiker (left) and Michelle Kooiker. Back row (left to right): Jeff Wallerich (jumps coach), Brian Dunlap (Fairfield head track and field coach), Jerrod Belzer (girls track and field coach) and Jeff Jones (strength coach).

FAIRFIELD — Any time Landon Kooiker speaks in front of a class or does a lot of research, the subject matter usually focuses on the high jump. He also likes physics, which is a big part of the high jump.

“You could say I’ve kind of immersed myself with it,” he said. “I’ve adopted it into my lifestyle.”

Indeed he has, and now he will take it a step farther. On Thursday the Fairfield High School senior signed a national letter of intent to jump for the University of Northern Iowa, becoming Fairfield’s first NCAA Division I track athlete since Will Wellington to compete in college sports’ highest level.

And he’s done it with essentially just three years of training. However, after winning the Class 3A state title and finishing seventh at the Drake Relays in the event a year ago, he’s up to the challenge.

“I think a little bit of it is that it comes natural to me,” he said. “But I’ve always just had a knack for it. I started off jumping pretty well and thought I could make a career of it.”

Kooiker is well-rounded in sprints and hurdles as well, which also would make him an attractive recruit. Fairfield coach Brian Dunlap could see the talent right away.

“He moved in here and we didn’t really have any background on him,” he said. “But then he started dunking in the gym and we could see it. He’s been dedicated to it every since. Early on we put him in a lot of things, but last year was went we really focused on the high jump for him.”

Kooiker cleared 6-7 to win the state title last year and outlast two fellow underclassmen on fewer misses, as Kooiker did not miss at any height. However, it was a jumper in his own conference, former Mount Pleasant standout Sam Beatty, who also cleared the height, that really brought out the best in Kooiker.

“We would always been competing against each other. I’d see him at least once a week,” Kooiker said. “I have to give a lot of credit to him. We were almost always clearing the same height, and it usually came down to misses. I just happened to miss fewer times at state.”

Kooiker figures to enter a physics or math field at Northern Iowa, though Iowa and Central College also were vying for his services. After multiple visits to each school, Northern Iowa stuck out.

“I just liked all the people there. I’m kind of a late bloomer, and I really took my time with it,” he said. “Schools started to take nice after my sophomore year. There are only a handful of athletes that go on to compete in college, and only like 5 percent at the D-I level. I’m fortunate to be one of those.”

Whether he can add a second state title remains to be seen, but Dunlap knows it won’t be for a lack of trying.

“He’s a very goal-driven person,” he said. “Every goal he had last year he accomplished. A lot of kids can look at him and see what it takes to get to the next level, because he’s shown it can be done and that it’s possible.”

Kooiker is aware of the challenge he’ll have in defending the title.

“The Charles City guy (Ian Collins) and the kid from Denison-Schleswig (Waw Gach) were both really impressive,” he said. “And there will be other guys as well that I wouldn’t be surprised have good jumps.

“But there is still a target,” he said. “There will be guys who want to beat me.”

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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