As 20 percent of the Macalester student body can attest, balancing one varsity sport and academics can often be a challenge. But three sports? That seems like an impossible burden.
Enter Auburn Jimenez ’14 (East Los Angeles, CA). In addition to being the starting kicker and punter on the football team, he’s also one of the best cross country and track runners in the school. It’s no surprise, then, that he was given the nickname “The King of Campus.” When asked about it, Jimenez smiles broadly.
“It was a nickname given to me by [football head coach Tony Jennison] the first week of preseason, freshman year,” Jimenez said. “He wanted me to feel at home here and not feel intimidated by the team.”
Jennison has a similar account for the origin of the nickname. “I wanted him to be just as important a member of the team as any position player…I remember some comments like, ‘Whatever Auburn needs, he gets. If he wants more dessert at Café Mac, you guys better go get it for him. If he needs someone to take his tray back, you go take it back.’”
For a sport where players of Jimenez’s position are often the odd man out, it may surprise some to hear that a freshman kicker received so much preferential treatment. However, the warm welcome can be explained by understanding the kind of kicker Jimenez was in high school and the kicking situation at Macalester before he arrived on campus. Jimenez was 10 of 14 kicking his last two years at St. John Bosco High School, including a long of 51 yards. He was also a near-automatic 69 of 75 from extra points.
Furthermore, the recent track record for kickers at Macalester was less than great. Joe Dykema ’14 (Roseville, MN), Jimenez’s teammate and current roommate, recalls a Macalester game that he attended while visiting campus as a prospective freshman in 2009, a 28-24 loss to the University of Chicago.
“[Macalester] didn’t have a kicker at that time. They had a soccer kid that could kick, kind of. And I saw them…miss an extra point. At the end, he had a bad kick off, which [U of Chicago] returned past the 40, and then they scored in one. We basically lost the game because we didn’t have a kicker.” With Jimenez enrolled at campus, the Scots suddenly had their man. A position of dire need suddenly became a position of great strength. “We had never had a kicker before,” Jennison said. “We knew that he could change our program.”
Indeed, Jimenez’s mark was made almost instantaneously. He went 9-14 (64 percent) kicking field goals his freshman year, but more notably, he was 4-5 on the season from 40-49 yards, including two memorable kicking performances. Against Minnesota-Morris in the Metrodome, he drilled field goals of 44 and 43 yards, leading the Scots to a 48 to 27 victory. Jimenez was also a perfect 6 of 6 on extra points that afternoon. “That [game] was really what I think gained him the notoriety nationally,” football assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Marshall Mullenbach said.
The other game of note that occured his freshman year was against Crown, where Jimenez drilled a 43-yard field goal with :03 seconds remaining to win the game 44-41.
Although many kickers likely would have celebrated visibly, Jimenez chose to take the route less traveled. “He never bragged about it,” Jennison said. “He never thought anything special about it.”
On the strength of those two kicking performances and a stellar rest of the season, Jimenez was awarded All-America honorable mention for the 2010 season by D3.football.com. The last two years, Jimenez has slowed down slightly by converting 14-28 of his field goals but looks to rediscover his freshman form in time for his senior year. Considering that the entire Macalester football team only attempted 11 field goals the two years before Jimenez arrived on campus, merely having him on the team provides the Scots with a means of scoring that simply wasn’t there in 2008-2009.
Cross Country success
While Jimenez was busy winning awards his freshman year, he was also a key contributor on the cross country team. Although two-sport athletes aren’t extremely uncommon at Macalester (many cross country runners and football players also run track), the difference between Jimenez and these other athletes is that Jimenez plays two sports in the same season. However, competing in two sports simultaneously wasn’t always the Jimenez’s plan.
“I was recruited for football. I was looking around, trying to play football and go to a good school, and I actually didn’t plan on running cross country at all here,” Jimenez said. “But apparently, [cross country head coach Matt Haugen] found out that I ran cross country in high school, and in September (of 2010) he sat down with me…And he’s like, ‘I know you’re in football, but you have a bye week here and you play on Friday this day, and your season ends here, so these three weekends you’d actually be free to run.’”
Although Jimenez experienced great success running cross country at St. John Bosco High, becoming a JV national champion his senior year, he clearly believes that football is his number one athletic priority in the fall. That said, he still takes his cross country training extremely seriously. Jimenez said that he tries to run every day by himself, since he often cannot practice with the team. He acknowledges that his football commitment puts him at a bit of a competitive disadvantage when it comes time to compete as a cross country runner.
“It’s tough, because you don’t have the training that the rest of the team has,” Jimenez said. “Day in and day out, they train with each other, and they’re prepared for these races, whereas I have to just get motivated on my own and train everyday by myself. I try to run everyday, but it doesn’t always happen with football and classes.”
Jimenez’s teammate Joe Giamberdino ’15 (St. Charles, IL) believes that even in light of football commitments, Jimenez is still able to make a significant impact on the cross country team. “Last cross country season, he joined us for one interval session because he had a free day from football. We were running 400s,” Giamberdino said. “He came out and took the 400 way fast and blew us all away. I just remember the whole team being shocked at the fact that he just jumped into a workout and was able to run the kind of time that he did.”
Despite only being able to practice with the team in limited quantities, Jimenez has still made an impact in the few cross country meets that he’s managed to make each year. In his very first collegiate meet at the UW-La Crosse Jim Drews Invitational, he finished second on the team with a time of 27:25.8. Two weeks later, he finished first on the team at the MIAC Championships, placing 34th out of 203 runners with a time of 27:17.2. This finish is even more impressive considering that he had led the football team the afternoon before by booting two 40+ yard field goals against Minnesota-Morris. And two weeks later he finished first amongst the Scots at the DIII Central Region Championships, recording a time of 26:58.0. Haugen was pleasantly surprised by Jimenez’s success his freshman year. “I knew he could be good because of his times [in high school], but I was surprised he was that good having not trained with us all fall,” Haugen said.
In his sophomore year, Jimenez competed in two races, finishing fourth on the team at the UW-La Crosse Jim Drews Invitational with a time of 27:31.3 and third on the team at the DIII Central Region Championships with a time of 27:29.5. Although his times weren’t significantly slower than they were his sophomore year, his standing on the team was challenged by the addition of a talented class of 2015, which featured Giamberdino and Mike Waltman ’15 (Lexington, KY). Adding Jimenez to that group of runners would certainly make the Scots more formidable, but the football schedule is such that he simply can’t compete in a high number of races.
“I wish we could have him in cross country for the MIAC [Championships] because he’d make a huge difference,” Haugen said. “The only time we’ve gotten lucky is when they’ve had a dome game on a Friday night [the Minnesota-Morris game in 2010] instead of a Saturday.”
Consequently, it seems likely that Jimenez will only get to compete in one MIAC Cross Country Championships in his Macalester career, unless the football schedule is such that the team has a bye or a Friday game that week (an unlikely scenario).
Breaking 15:00 in the 5K
After playing two sports at the same time in the fall, Jimenez is able to unwind by competing in only one spring sport: track. As he did with football and cross country, Jimenez’s track career started off with a bang. He was the only Macalester runner to compete in the 3000-meter run at the MIAC Indoor Championships his freshman year, finishing 16th with a time of 8:58.55. Jimenez followed that time with an 11th place finish in the 5K at the MIAC Outdoor Championships. His time of 15:38.35 was the second best of any MIAC freshman. Jimenez said that meet was possibly his favorite athletic moment at Macalester.
“[I went] into the race, as a freshman in a good conference, and the chances of scoring are pretty low,” Jimenez said. “I missed out scoring by a few places, but as a freshman, getting that close, I was still proud of myself.”
Jimenez was a part of the sixth place distance medley relay team at the MIAC Indoor Championships his sophomore year, combining with Sebastian Roemer ’15 (Kimberton, PA), Ross Boehme ’15 (Redding, CT), and Dan Voss ’14 (Willmar, MN) to finish in 10:42.76. Unfortunately, he struggled in the 5K at the MIAC Outdoor Championships, running it in 16:20.17 to finish 26th out of 30 runners.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform at the highest standards,” Giamberdino said. “We had a race at Hamline [this year], and [Haugen] allowed up to put our own seed times to put into the meet…You could put a mediocre seed time and hope to break that…or you can put an incredibly fast seed time…And Auburn put down a really fast time, and unfortunately didn’t quite achieve that time, but that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s always setting standards and he’s got the highest expectations.”
This outdoor track season is a perfect example of how ambitious Jimenez’s goals can be. He has his sights set on breaking 15:00 in the 5K, but has two major obstacles in between him and his mark. First, his current personal best is 15:28.43, a time set last spring at the Bolstorff Twilight Meet. Second, the best time that any runner ran at last year’s MIAC Outdoor Championships in the 5K was 15:16.18, meaning that Jimenez is hoping to finish over sixteen seconds faster than last year’s conference champion. That said, Jimenez remains hopeful.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I think it’s possible,” Jimenez said. “Really, I just need to reel in the last mile of my race and not drop off … I’m optimistic.”
Although this time would be nearly half a minute faster than any 5K Jimenez has ever run, Haugen believes that his runner is capable of shaving enough time to meet his goal. However, Haugen acknowledged that Jimenez is at a disadvantage because he hasn’t been training for as long as many of his competitors.
“It’s a little more difficult when you can’t run cross country as much as the other guys do, because he has to get back into shape every year,” Haugen said. “But he’s got the leg speed for it, he’s got the desire for it, he’s got Giamberdino to train with. Right now, he’s got to work on his kick, that punishing last lap or two, and he’s got to work on that last mile, because that’s where he started to fall off the table a little bit during his last meet.”
Haugen categorized Jimenez as a “front runner,” a term that means exactly what it suggests. Although being in the lead at the beginning of the race has some disadvantages, like doing all the work for everyone drafting off of him or her, it also has significant advantages, like enabling the front runner to set the pace and lowering the risk of getting boxed in.
“He’s a front runner, and I like front runners,” Haugen said. “What front runners do is that as they get older and stronger, they stay near the front longer and longer for greater portions of the race.”
If all goes well on May 10-11 at the MIAC Outdoor Championships, Jimenez may find himself the front runner at the finish line.