Bill Rozak

Jackson McIlroy runs a lot. And recently he drove a lot.

The Sonora High senior standout runner went looking for his perfect college a few months ago. He liked the Pacific northwest, the rain, the snow, the clouds, the weather, the seasons, so he went looking for the right school.

He found the perfect fit, and the school originally wasn’t even on his radar. He had never heard of it and surely wasn’t planning to visit.

Jackson and his father, Paul, had driven as far as Tacoma, Washington, on the first week-long trip, just short of 1,000 miles one way. Their next trip was to the Humboldt area and another 500 miles. In total he visited about eight colleges in divisions I to III.

The final trip he took was by plane, and that took him directly to Western Washington, a division II university located in Bellingham, about 30 miles away from Vancouver across the Canadian border.

The coach showed interest, McIlroy went there, and the rest is, or will soon be, history.

Western Washington is where McIlroy is planning to call home for at least the next four years. He plans to redshirt his freshman year. He signed his National Letter of Intent April 20 in the foyer of Sonora High School’s Bud Castle Gymnasium. He’ll run for the Vikings and get to look at the Pacific Ocean on one side of the campus and the Cascade Range on the other. He’ll compete in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

“It feels really good,” McIlroy said the day after his signing. “A lot of work has been put into these last four years and it has paid off. It’s a beautiful place.”

McIlroy didn’t get an athletic scholarship — cross country isn’t like getting a full ride for football, basketball or some other sports. The program is underfunded and doesn’t have that type of money to throw around. But McIlroy, an honor roll student at Sonora, received a $20,000 academic scholarship which will pay for his out-of-state tuition.

‘He’s a great runner. One of the most dedicated athletes I’ve ever had,” said Wildcat track and field coach Frank Garcia. “He works super hard. He’s a leader. He’s everything we could’ve asked for in an athlete.”

McIlroy just finished his Mother Lode League running career Thursday at the track and field finals at Summerville and captured two individual titles.

McIlroy won both the 1600-meter run and the 3200, claiming both titles for the first time. He finished the 1600 in 4 minutes, 37.17 seconds and the 3200 in 10:06.49.

McIlroy credits Darren Holman, a Sonora graduate and Stanislaus State cross country coach, for turning him into the runner he is and helping him to pursue running at a higher level.

But he also can’t say enough about his parents, Paul and and his mom Elizabeth, for giving him the support so he can go after his college dream out of state.

“They always supported me and said, ‘We’ll figure it out, go where you want to go,’ ” McIlroy said.

Jackson also has a younger sister, Addie, and his grandparents are Robert and Jacqui Gobler.

“A good runner, there are hardpoints and struggles, and sometimes you can feel like you’re not good enough, but if you apply yourself and put yourself out there, it will happen,” McIlroy said. “My goal was to compete in college, and my dad who competed in college (swimming) told me it’s an experience not like anything.”

Garcia sees great things ahead for his star long-distance runner.

“He’s got the determination, the strength, he’s gonna compete at the best level he can, and he’ll make the team,” Garcia said. “I wish him the best and can see him coming back and being a role model for the rest of us.”