Inside HOKIE SPORTS | Vol. 11 No. 4 | March 2019

30 Inside Hokie Sports A sk any coach and he or she will tell you that recruiting 16- and 17-year-old high school athletes brings forth some combination of worry, heartbreak, and at times, elation—and usually all at the same time and with each athlete. Often the odds of success seem insurmountable, particularly when one of that athlete’s parents graduated from the wrong side of a bitter rivalry. Former Tech cross country/distance coach Ben Thomas found himself in this exact situation roughly five years ago. He liked this kid from his own hometown of Lynchburg, just a couple of hours fromTech’s campus, but the kid’s mom graduated from the University of Virginia—which complicated matters. Undeterred, Thomas went into the recruiting process armed with his own secret weapon. He and Peter Seufer grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same high school and had the same high school coach. And rest assured, he used all of that to his advantage. “He grew up on the street next to mine,” Seufer said. “We had the same high school coach, Rod Camden. I think he actually talked to him on the phone and told him about me, or Coach Thomas called him and asked him what he thought. “He’d [Thomas] ask me all the time, ‘Did I run here? Did I run here?’ Since we had the same coach, the runs didn’t really change. Over 30 years, we did the exact same runs.” It still took some convincing to get Seufer, the undeniable leader of the Virginia Tech men’s distance group these days, to bring his talents to Blacksburg. After all, he wasn’t just the son of a UVA graduate. He also was a fan of the school. Heck, he knew his way around Charlottesville the way he knows his way around Tech’s Buford Meredith Cross Country Course today. Scott Stadium, University Hall and later John Paul Jones Arena … well, visiting those arenas for games was akin to walking around his living room. To put it in a more understandable perspective, he was practically born with a silver sabre in his mouth. “I was a diehard UVA fan,” Seufer admitted, a little sheepishly. “We had season football tickets for a long period of time. There, and we had basketball tickets.” But Thomas overcame what appeared to be, on the surface, a no-win situation. He and then- assistant Eric Johannigmeier—now the Hokies’ head distance coach—used their people skills to convince Seufer of his importance to them and backed it up with a partial scholarship offer. Then they let the student-athletes on the track and field team finish the sales job. In the end, as Virginia Tech often has done over the decades, it won with people, a group with a genuine Southwest Virginia wholesomeness that apparently those at few other schools know how to replicate. And in the end, Seufer donned on his orange-and-maroon hoodie, planted his orange-and-maroon flag in the family’s yard, and came to Blacksburg. “It was a very tough choice, and ultimately, what it came down to was the team and the coaches,” Seufer said. “I just felt like I made a better connection with the coaches here than I did at UVA, and it helped that they offered me something here and gave me that belief that I was worth more than just a spot.” Seufer certainly has been worth more than a spot on a roster for the Hokies, who won a share of the ACC’s indoor track and field crown in late February in large part because of Seufer’s two medals—one gold and one silver. In fact, he has been worth every cent allotted to him out of Dave Cianelli’s scholarship budget. Need some proof? He owns three ACC individual gold medals and five medals overall. He is a six-time All-ACC first-team choice, and he twice earned All-ACC honors in cross country, including this past fall when he won the ACC’s individual crown. He also earned All-America honors in cross country this fall. Interestingly, he didn’t really come to running naturally. Like most kids, he participated in travel soccer and moonlighted in tennis, and he only went out for the cross country team after a good buddy convinced him to do so during his freshman year at E.C. Glass High School. At first, Seufer struggled to run three miles without a break. He only moderately enjoyed the training. Yet he absolutely loved competing. That desire even got him in trouble from time to time during training, as he and his teammates often took a practice and made it a race, which, from a coaches perspective, interrupted the pace. “I just loved competing more than anything else,” Seufer said. “I’ve always had somebody that I could compete against. My freshman year [of high school], I was competing with everybody because I wasn’t very good and just steadily working my way up the ranks. Then the following year, I had this teammate from South Korea, and we would race every day in practice, and I thought that was so fun. “If you ask my teammates now, they’ll tell you that I still love racing in practice a little bit. Eric would probably tell you the same thing. Might as well turn a workout into something more.” Seufer certainly got better, going on to win six state championships during his career at E.C. Glass. That success led to Thomas’ interest, which in turn, led to him coming to Tech. Not everything has been rosy for Seufer, though, since arriving on campus. A few weeks into his sophomore season, he contracted mononucleosis and missed the remainder of the Continued on page 32