It’s a good thing Nathan Hite is a quick learner.
Hite walked onto the Texas A&M men’s track and field team in 2014 knowing he had to show potential in the decathlon quickly or his athletic career was over.
“I didn’t know if I was going to keep him through that first year,” A&M track and field coach Pat Henry said. “He couldn’t do anything. He wanted to do the decathlon because he wasn’t very good at anything [individually] at this level.”
Hite had competed in only one of the 10 decathlon events while at Houston’s Southwest Christian, meaning he had plenty of work to do.
“[Former assistant coach Kris Grimes] asked do you want to learn how and that they’d train me through Christmas break, and if I did well he’ll keep me on,” Hite said. “I had three months to learn everything ... discus, pole vault, shot, javelin, high jump ... all of it. I had no idea whether I was on the bubble for being on the team or not. I just assumed I’d come out and do my best every day until someone told me I wasn’t.”
That day never came, and both Hite and the A&M track team are better for it.
As a sophomore in 2017, Hite scored points in the heptathlon at the Southeastern Conference indoor meet, but he did not compete in a decathlon until last season at the Texas Relays, where he placed seventh with 7,491 points.
“I was so proud of that, just to have scored points for my team [at SECs] in an event I learned just the previous year,” Hite said. “It’s almost surreal because from my perspective now is I can feel myself getting better and I expect to do better, but from my perspective back then when I was a freshman, it was my dream to just go and compete and maybe qualify for nationals.”
Hite qualified for the NCAA outdoor meet last season but competed with an injured foot and finished 18th with 6,518 points a month after placing third in the SEC meet at 7,723.
“After his sophomore year I saw that there was a chance for him to be successful at this event, not necessarily [score points] but be successful, and now he’s at 7,700, and I didn’t see that in him, really didn’t,” Henry said. “He was smart enough to find somewhere where he could be successful, and track is one of those sports that there is a spot for you if you want to work hard enough, and he has.”
Hite earned a return trip to the NCAA outdoor meet this season and will begin competition in the decathlon at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin. The men’s meet runs through Friday, while the Aggie women will compete from Thursday through Saturday.
Hite has had success at Myers Stadium, improving his personal record and winning the decathlon with 7,774 points at the Texas Relays in late March.
Then in early May, Hite finished no worse than fourth in any of the 10 disciplines and won the decathlon at the SEC outdoor meet with 7,468 points. He won the 100 meters in a personal-best 10.63 seconds and won the 400 despite starting so quickly he ran his fastest 200 but suffered through the second half of the race. One of his two fourth-place finishes ironically came in the long jump, one of his specialties in high school.
The overall performance showcased Hite’s approach to the decathlon: be good at everything. Some decathletes lean on their skills in a few of the disciplines to post a big overall score, but Hite needs as many points as he can get in each of the 10 events to compete against athletes often bigger, stronger or faster than him.
“Nate doesn’t have a single event that he would be able to score at SEC in an open event,” said A&M assistant coach Sean Brady, who oversees jumpers and multi-event athletes. “He knows he’s got to be good in everything. Part of this event is if you are in it long enough, then through attrition you are going to see people start to fall off.”
Hite has the nation’s seventh-best point total at 7,774. The Pac-12 Conference has the top three scores, with Southern California’s Ayden Owens and Stanford’s Harrison Williams the only two to top 8,000 so far this season.
“What’s been in the back of our mind and if we have conditions favorable to do that is 8,000 points,” Brady said. “We talk more about the process, but I think if the weather is conducive, [Hite is] going in healthy coming off a win at the SEC meet and had PRs, so he’s in a real good spot. If he has a solid meet he will score [for the team], and if he has a great meet then I don’t see why he can’t be on the podium.”
If Hite is in the running for a top-three finish going into the final event, the 1,500 meters, Brady said Hite has the mental strength to maintain his position, especially considering he ran his personal-best of 4:43.87 in the grueling event at this year’s Texas Relays.
“There are a lot of nerves going into it because you know it is going to hurt and you know what you’ve got to do in order to place where you are going to place,” Hite said. “So it’s all about being mentally strong enough to get there. Me personally, after nine events no matter how much I try to hydrate and eat, I can always feel a lack of blood sugar and a lack of hydration, lack of electrolytes. You try your best to head off [cramping], but you can only eat and drink so much while you are competing all day.”
Hite, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, has already proven to be a winner in the academic field. He twice has won A&M’s Bill Erwin Scholar-Athlete award and most recently was named the SEC’s H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He is the second Aggie to win the award — swimmer Sarah Gibson won it in 2017 — and only the fourth male track and field athlete to win the award since it began in 1986. He received a $20,000 post-graduate scholarship and was honored last week at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. He’s also received the NCAA Elite 90 award for having the highest grade point average among the competitors at the previous two NCAA meets he’s qualified for.
“It means so much to me because I really try to apply myself to the best of my ability in every area,” Hite said. “I’m passionate about track and very passionate about school, engineering, and so to win an award that kind of embodies that and all the work that I put in, it means a lot. It means a lot not just for myself but for my family and to represent Texas A&M within the SEC.”
After the decathlon ends Thursday, Henry can finally deliver the news to Hite that he is no longer on the team, although he’d be more than welcome to work out at the new Cushion Stadium and attempt to represent the United States in the decathlon internationally, something Henry believes will be a possibility.
“For a walk-on from Bellville to be where he is and the things that he has done is truly unique,” said Henry, speaking of both his athletic and academic achievements. “That just doesn’t happen very often.”
NOTES — Hite won the TAPPS Class 2A state championship in the long jump (21-2) and triple jump (44-9) as a senior at Southwest Christian. ... Hite says he learned a lot from former A&M decathlete Lindon Victor, the collegiate record holder in the event at 8,539 points who was teammates with Hite until 2017. ... A&M pole vaulter Jacob Wooten is one of 31 athletes making a fourth straight appearance at this year’s NCAA outdoor meet and one of 15 to improve in each of their appearances through the first three. Wooten finished 12th as a freshman, fifth as a sophomore and fourth last year. ... A&M’s Devin Dixon has the fastest time in men’s 800 this season and anchors the 4x400 relay team, which holds the nation’s best time. ... A&M’s men are predicted to finish fifth this week, according to the USTFCCCA’s projections. Texas Tech is No. 1 followed by Florida, LSU and BYU. Tech has 10 entries ranked among the top five in their event.