NAU signs Gatorade National Runner of Year

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Futsum Zienasellassie, a senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis who was recently named the Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, has signed a National Letter of Intent to compete in cross country and track and field for Northern Arizona beginning in the fall of 2012, coach Eric Heins announced Friday.

“Coming out of high school this year, Futsum was among the best distance runners in the country, so any time you get a guy like that, it’s going to be pretty exciting for everyone in the program,” said Heins. “I wish there was a word to use bigger than ‘excitement’ to explain it, but I think there’s definitely already a buzz about NAU in just the couple hours since we received his NLI, and I think it’s really fantastic for him and for the future of our program.”

The 5-foot-8, 134-pound Zienasellassie raced to the Nike Cross Nationals Final championship this past season with a course-record time of 15:02.41 while also breaking the tape at the NXN Midwest Regional championships (15:42.8) and the Foot Locker Midwest Regional championships (14:58). Zienasellassie won his third consecutive Indiana state cross-country crown this fall and finished second at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships with a time of 14:52.1 for the second straight year.

Arguably the most decorated high school signee in program history, Zienasellassie will bolster an already-strong recruiting class for the Lumberjacks that added Washington cross country standout and Foot Locker Nationals third-place finisher Nathan Weitz and Arkansas Gatorade Runner of the Year Will Aenchbacher earlier this year.

“Myself and coaches Jason Pedersen and Mo Huber made a big push this year to find some solid, bigger-name guys to recruit and bring to Flagstaff to compete,” said Heins. “Signing Nathan and Will early was a huge part of that, and having Futsum commit now really makes me proud of the job our coaching staff has done and the environment the team has created for them at NAU on their visits to campus.”

Zienasellassie will join older brother Bahlbi Gebreyohanns on the track and field and cross country teams at NAU next season. Gebreyohanns, a sophomore in his second year with the program, has had an outstanding year this track and field season, having earned a pair of scoring finishes at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships with seventh place in both the 3,000 and 5,000, and he currently holds the fifth-best conference mark in the 5,000 meters this outdoor season.

“It is always good to have your brother beside you, not only on race day but every single day, so I am very happy about him coming here,” said Gebreyohanns. “Running with him in high school and being on the start line together was the most amazing feeling, so I am looking forward to next year and being in that position again.

“What makes it special is after being separated for two years, we are able to represent the same school and will get to work together to bring something special to Lumberjack country.”

Zienasellassie has good company with his Runner of the Year award, as Gatorade state and national award alumni from the realm of professional running include 60-meter hurdles American record-holder Lolo Jones (Iowa, 1997-98), three-time 200-meter world champion Allyson Felix (California and national, 2002-03), 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials winner Meb Keflezighi (California, 1993-94), former American mile record-holder Alan Webb (Virginia and national, 2000-01) and Ryan Hall (California, 2000-01), a marathon qualifier for the U.S. in the upcoming London Summer Olympics.