The sensation of slipping on his LSU cross country uniform for the first time three years ago was an unmistakable feeling Eric Coston won’t soon forget.
Now the native of Covington and graduate of St. Paul’s is faced with a different emotion, understanding his collegiate cross-country career is nearing the finish line with LSU scheduled to host the SEC Championships Oct. 30 at the University Club.
“It’s an emotional period,” Coston said. “I’ve always liked LSU since I was a kid. It was really refreshing to be able to put on that jersey for the first time my freshman year and knowing that my time’s running down to suit up for LSU. I’m just going to enjoy every last second that I have this year, run my very best and represent the school the best that I can.”
In his three meets this season, Coston has finished 19th in the SEC Preview Meet on Sept. 19 with a time of 18 minutes, 27.2 seconds over the 6K course and 12th in the Florida State Invitational on Oct. 2 in a time of 24:47.5 in completing the 8K course. He followed that with an eighth-place finish Oct. 17 at Texas A&M’s Arturo Barrios Invitational, covering the 8K course in 24:12.2.
Coston, like his teammates, had to endure the uncertainty of whether LSU would be able to conduct a fall season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
After having the entire outdoor track season cancelled because of the COVID-19 health scare, Coston feared his final cross-country season would suffer a similar fate. That is, until the SEC announced Aug. 27 that teams would be able to compete in a shortened season consisting of three meets during the regular season and the SEC Championships. “I wasn’t sure over the summer what was going to happen,” Coston said. “It definitely was an interesting time period, waiting to hear every day whether we were going to have it or not, or if it was getting cancelled. Thankfully, we are able to get back out there after a few months off and compete.”
Coston looked forward this fall to building on a junior season in which he was voted the state’s top runner by Louisiana Sports Writers Association. It served as a catalyst for an LSU team that enjoyed its best finish at the SEC and NCAA South Regional meets in more than a decade.
As the team’s lone senior, Coston has been steadfast in setting a positive example in practice which he believes will then carry over into competition.
“I just want to teach the young guys to train hard every day and know your body because it’s a long season,” he said. “I know this season’s shorter than normal but you’re still putting in a lot of volume at practice. You have to take care of yourself and enjoy the ride. It’s been a fun four years.
“The big thing is keeping your focus on the main goal. You have to focus on getting better each week, getting better each race. I want to try to lead by example, especially at the meets. Sometimes you can have an off day here or there at practice, but at the meets I want to be at my very best.”
Coston’s performance in 2019 was emblematic of just that, finishing at LSU’s top performer in the five meets in which he competed.
It began with a personal best time of 14 minutes, 49.53 seconds in LSU’s 5K Invitational in which Coston was second overall.
He followed with a ninth-place finish at Notre Dame’s Joe Piane Invitational, covering the five-mile course in 24:31.46. It was a vast improvement from the previous year at the same meet in which he was 24th with a time of 25:09.27.
Coston entered the SEC Championships having finished 34th (24:55.80) as a freshman and 79th as a sophomore (25:05.3). He produced a 20th showing with a personal-best of 23:29.8 in the 8K event and concluded the season with a 16th place and time of 30:43.9 in the 10K NCAA South Central Regionals which earned him All-Region honors.
“I was happy with the outcome,” Coston said of his overall season. “I saw the progression from my freshman and sophomore years. It was a big jump and I tried to take the necessary steps this summer and get my training down. I focused on that and trying to stay healthy. I focused on recovery, eating and drinking right.”
Coston remains acutely aware of COVID-19 and the protocols that have been instituted for all of LSU’s athletes to remain healthy and chase their respective dreams.
For Coston, that translates into continued progress for his team, while aiming for his first a berth on either the first or second All-SEC team and Top 10 individual finish at the conference meet. He’s also got aspirations of reaching his first NCAA Championships during either the indoor and outdoor track seasons in his distance specialties the 3,000 and 5,000 meters (indoor) and 1500 meters and 5K (outdoors).
“It’s definitely a very humbling experience,” Coston said of his LSU career after winning 11 state cross country/track championships in high school. “It’s been a big jump from high school to college. It’s also been very motivating to make myself better each week, to try and be able to run with some of the top guys in the NCAA. I just want to try and keep bettering myself each week to be the best that I can be.”