MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. --- Mount Carmel High School cross country standout Grady Wilkinson Wednesday signed a scholarship form to attend the University of Southern Indiana.
“USI stood out because they have an exceptional cross country program,” said Wilkinson following the signing ceremony which took place among family and friends at MCHS. “It is just so close to home and it’s so state of the art I couldn’t pick anything else.”
Wilkinson, who also was a part of the track and swimming teams at the Hilltop, signed an academic scholarship, though his career path is undecided at this point. “So, I just tell people I am majoring in cross country,” he chuckled.
USI finished 13th at the NCAA Division II Cross Country championships in November 2016. That came on the heels of the Screaming Eagles 12th straight championship in the Great Lakes Valley Conference meet in October. With 24 conference crowns overall, USI owns the most in GLVC history in all sports.
To say Wilkinson is a veteran of the Golden Aces cross country program would be an understatement. He ran with the team in an unofficial capacity when he was still in eighth grade at MCMS.
“I was pretty well up there,” he said. “In my freshman year, I ran in the low 18’s (minutes). Then, I really shot down, almost two minutes, because I was training at a regular rate. Then, steadily over the next three or four years, I dropped about 20-30 seconds per year.”
Steve Perry, who coached the Golden Aces during Wilkinson’s first three years, said his strong desire to run was evident at an early age. “Anything that involved running kept him interested,” Perry said. “He enjoyed doing the long-distance runs, while working on getting better with the speed work.”
Joe Vargo took over the program in 2016. “He was a complete package and ready to go when I got here,” Vargo said. “Steve had done a great job with him, so my main focus was just not messing him up. He’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever been around. He excels in the classroom as well as the cross-country course.”
Wilkinson went to the IHSA state meet in Peoria during his junior season, and did “decently well. It was probably one of the most fun races I ever ran,” he said.