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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

The unexpected path to Texas A&M

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Photo by Courtesy of Tyler Pounds/Texas A&M Athletics

A&M distance coach Wendel McRaven has coached the Texas A&M Cross Country program for 10 years.

Over the past 10 years, the Texas A&M distance running program has produced 45 All-Conference finishers, 16 All-Americans, nine conference champions and one NCAA national champion.
A&M distance coach Wendel McRaven is behind that success.
McRaven’s unexpected entry into the college cross country coaching world came during his own collegiate cross country career, which he spent at North Central College, a small, private liberal arts college in Illinois.
Under the direction of Hall of Fame head coach Al Carius, McRaven found a path for his future he did not expect.
As a college athlete at NCC, McRaven majored in English and thought about the possibility of a career in writing.
“I didn’t go to college with the idea of being a coach or a teacher — I’m not even sure what idea I had about what I was going to do,” McRaven said. “My junior year, Al Carius was actually surprised that I wasn’t an education major. He was like, ‘I thought you were going to be a coach,’ and he just talked about how I had the qualities of a coach.”
Carius, 78, has been a coach at NCC since 1966 and has amassed 19 team Division III national titles — the most of any coach across the division. Carius said he remembers McRaven as a “coach’s dream.”
“[2020] is my 55th year at North Central College and you see through time that people that become successful and maintain success have certain internal characteristics that are consistent,” Carius said. “You can have talent, and Wendel had talent, and you can have desire and passion and Wendel had that, but without the solid foundation of virtues and character that make up a person, you don’t maintain the success and people fall apart. Wendel McRaven had and has all of those successful virtues that are critically important to maintaining the talent that you have.”
McRaven said Carius’s influence is what pushed him to pursue a post-college career in coaching. Knowing he would most likely need a master’s degree to coach at the collegiate level, McRaven enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Alabama where he further explored the possibility of coaching.
“Here’s a guy who’s a Hall of Famer telling you you have what it takes to be a coach,” McRaven said. “It was kind of a lightbulb moment for me and I was like ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about that, maybe I would like coaching.’”
McRaven served as a graduate assistant coach while completing his degree at Alabama and was hired onto the staff after graduating. Soon after, he had the opportunity to move into a coaching position at the University of Nebraska where he spent many of his formative years.
“After [Alabama] I got an opportunity to be at the University of Nebraska where I really figured out what a Division I program was all about,” McRaven said. “It was at Nebraska where I learned how to build a team, recruiting and methodical recruiting, attention to detail. Nebraska has a system and it was one that produced championships.”
From NCC to Nebraska, McRaven learned from coaching legends who were producing national champions. Both of these combined when he arrived at A&M as an assistant coach under coach Pat Henry.
“It feels like I just got here yesterday,” McRaven said. “Every year is a new year and A&M is a dynamic place both as a university and athletic department. We’re working hard and looking at ways to be better. I came here to work with Coach Henry — that’s what really excited me about coming here.”
Henry, a 36-time national champion, has led the Aggies to nine national team titles and said when he is looking to hire assistant coaches, he looks for people who aren’t complacent in what they know.
“We’ve had a lot of years of success and a lot of young coaches want to see what it is that sustains a program,” Henry said. “When I hire an assistant I try to hire people of like philosophy but [who] want to learn as we go. Wendel has been that kind of person and has been a great person to have as part of our program.”
Over the decade they’ve spent working alongside each other, Henry said he has seen the ambition he looks for in McRaven.
“His hair has gotten grayer,” Henry said. “Most students are here for four or five years and the longer you are here the more you become able to express what it means to be an Aggie. I think the longer anyone is here it just gets better and better.”
McRaven said his favorite memory with the Aggies was winning the 2017 NCAA Indoor Track National Championship in College Station.
“It was a huge upset win because I don’t even think we were picked on paper to be top five and we won the national championship,” McRaven said. “That was super exciting because it was at home and it was so loud. There are people that go to football games and basketball games regularly that said they haven’t heard anywhere as loud as that indoor track was when we won the championship.”
Despite all of the successes from his decade at A&M, McRaven said he’s enjoyed himself because College Station has become the home he never expected.
“I told someone the other day that if I could spend the rest of my life in College Station I would be a happy camper because it’s a great place to live, raise a family and join a community,” McRaven said. “It’s the people, not the place. I love the culture and I love what A&M represents. Right now, I love this place and would like to be here the rest of my life if I could be.”

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