Drew Windle admits he sets lofty, if not seemingly unrealistic, goals to motivate himself.
So when the New Albany High School graduate sat down before his freshman year at Ashland University with Trent Mack, his cross country coach and middle-distance coach in track and field, Mack was in for a surprise.
Windle, who capped his high school career by winning the 800 meters in the 2011 Division I state meet, wasn't about to settle for a soft learning curve in college.
"He was coming in off running (1 minute, 51.94 seconds) at the state meet in a breakout race in front of thousands of people with great competition," Mack said. "Then just about the first thing Drew told me was he wanted to run a low 1:49 or high 1:48 that year. We talked about what he'd done in running and where he was trying to go, and he wasn't backing down. He just expects a lot from himself."
Windle didn't break 1:50 his freshman year, but this past year as a sophomore, he blew away his personal bests. He won Division II indoor and outdoor national championships in the 800, helped Ashland's 1,600 relay to an indoor title (3:09.38) and was named the national indoor track Athlete of the Year.
His outdoor championship time was 1:48.52, faster than his winning indoor effort of 1:48.75 that was the fastest time of the season and second-fastest in Division II indoor championships history.
In the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, he won the outdoor 800 title in 1:48.04.
"I learned in high school if I set my goals out there, I have a better chance of making them happen," said Windle, who already is a seven-time All-American. "I've learned that in track, there's a way you have to carry yourself to be successful. I wouldn't call it cockiness, really, but it's a necessity to go in with an attitude that no one can beat you. You think any other way, you're setting yourself up for failure before the race ever starts."
Windle is far from a failure.
He used high school track as a way to stay in shape for the football team, for which he was a second-team all-district punter in Division II as a junior and a second-team all-OCC-Capital Division tight end as a senior. But Windle's 800 state title cemented running as his forte as he transitioned to college.
During the 2012 indoor track season, he was sixth nationally in the 800 (1:54.03) and seventh in the distance medley relay (10:07.87), then was fourth outdoor in the 800 (1:56.07) and ran the anchor leg on the 1,600 relay that finished seventh (3:11.59) nationally. He was named the GLIAC indoor track Freshman of the Year as well as the regional Athlete of the Year.
Mack attributed Windle's immediate success to maturity and understanding of his limitations while racing.
"He knows when to fire it up and when to back off," Mack said. "A lot of times, college athletes take a year to figure it out. Going year-round at this level is something different than they're used to."
During the indoor season, Windle became the second student-athlete in Division II history to record multiple sub-1:49 times, joining Southern Connecticut's Salasi Lumax. Windle owns three of the top eight times in division history.
Despite falling short of qualifying for the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in late June in Des Moines, Iowa, Windle made the 1,300-mile round trip to watch as a fan and study potential future competitors. Windle's indoor national-championship time left him .08 short of making the field, as the nation's top 28 runners were taken.
"But I have another year to make the (championships)," said Windle, who isn't ruling out taking a shot at qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "It makes me hungrier. Making that 'A' standard is the goal for next year."
A history and political science major at Ashland, Windle also would be happy with a professional running career or coaching in college.
"It all depends on what happens the next few years," he said. "Maybe I can sign with a shoe company, get sponsored and run professionally for a while. I'd like to coach at the collegiate level, too. I just think it'd be awesome helping other runners train and setting up workouts for them."