How Colo-NESCO's Kenny Cutler went from hating the 400 hurdles to dominating the event
COLO — When he was a skinny freshman, Colo-NESCO's Kenny Cutler wanted no part of the 400-meter hurdles.
Royal head boys track coach Tony Stalzer said he saw some talent in the young runner, but noted he wasn't very fast or strong at the time.
Like everyone else in the state, Cutler missed out on his sophomore year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When he came back as a junior, the 400 hurdles were still nowhere near his radar.
As his 2021 season got going, Cutler found out he was doing pretty good in well the 110 high hurdles and the open 400. But both events ran close together, leaving him fatigued for the 110 highs.
So, he and Stalzer came up with a solution: Run the 400 hurdles instead of the 400.
Turned out to be a genius move.
Cutler won the first 400 hurdle race he ran in 2021. Then he took the Iowa Star Conference title in the event and qualified for state. At state, Cutler earned a spot on the medal stand in Class 1A after placing sixth with a time of 56.85 seconds.
“My freshman year, I was like, 'Let’s just get through this,' because I wanted to be faster for football and basketball,” Cutler said. “Once I really started to get good at it, and you go to state and run on that blue track — it's one of those big four places to perform at. It’s something you just dream about. It felt like such an honor. It felt like I had a whole town behind me rooting for me.”
Cutler expects to be one of the top 400 hurdlers in 1A again this year. He clocked in at 57.61 at the Spartan Earlybird meet last week and 58.07 at the Bolt Invitational in Baxter Monday.
"He's where I want him to be right now," Stalzer said.
Cutler was able to build a lot of strength and speed from the start of his freshman year up until he started running the 400 hurdles late in his junior season.
"My brother (Sean Cutler) pulled me out of bed every morning and got me in the weight room,” Cutler said. “That helped out. But honestly I just grew.”
Stalzer said Cutler has developed into the ideal hurdler.
“He’s got a lot of intangibles,” Stalzer said. "At this age, he’s got speed, good form and very good flexibility. He’s willing to work at it. There’s a lot of that internal fire in him and he’s very coachable.”
Cutler currently ranks seventh in 1A for the 400 hurdles despite running in just two outdoor meets. With more time on the track, he expects to move up the leaderboard.
“You’ve got to stay fit, stay active and work hard,” Cutler said. “Every day in practice, for all my sports, if I’m thinking about letting off the gas, I’ve got people next to me trying to beat me. We push ourselves to go farther.”
His teammates enjoy watching him succeed.
“I love cheering him on,” Colo-NESCO senior Andrew Tschantz said. “He’s quick and confident. I think he’s faster than he started last year and clearing the hurdles a lot more easily.”
Tschantz also ran at state last year, placing 19th in the 1A open 400. The two want to bring more Royals with them to Des Moines next month.
Cutler and Tschantz are part of a sprint medley relay team that has a good chance at making state. At the Spartan Earlybird meet, Christian Oswalt and Lucas Frohwein ran the two 100 legs, with Cutler in the 200 and Tschantz in the 400, as the Royals placed third with a school-record time of 1:40.98.
Culter and Tschantz also want to make state in the 4x400. Breckin Clatt and Frohwein joined them in placing second at the Bolt Invite with a time of 3:41.24.
They hope to do better by the time the qualifying meet rolls around.
“We’re both looking to get a lot better with our handoffs,” Tschantz said. “Once we get those ironed out, we’ll be even faster.”
Outside of the 400 hurdles, Cutler will also compete individually in either the 110 highs or 400 this year. But the 400 hurdles will remain his top focus.
Cutler is currently outside of the Drake Relays cut in the event. The top 16 times in the state qualify and he sits 26th right now, but is only 0.74 seconds off the 16th-place time currently held by Riley Carrier of Bellevue.
“We’re trying,” Stalzer “It’s trying to get a meet in that has competition that can push him to that next spot.”
Colo-NESCO had its home meet held at Cub Stadium in Nevada canceled Thursday due to high winds. That gives Cutler two more chances to make the cut as the Royals currently have meets scheduled at Van Meter and BCLUW next week.
As big as the Drake Relays are, the main goal for Cutler is to peak at state.
Winning a 400 hurdles championship will be a tall order. Iowa State recruits Kole Becker of Lisbon and Beau York of H-L-V are back after going 1-2 at last year's state meet in 1A.
Cutler still wants to give it his best shot. But he'd be satisfied with another high place and getting to compete in a couple other events on the big stage.
“Of course I want to win," Cutler said. "But I’m just looking to do better than I did last year and bring some company with me.”