Timing is Everything as Saddler Signs to UNC

Cardinal Gibbons' Craig Saddler is taking his talents to Chapel Hill.

The US No. 5 300-meter hurdler has announced his commitment to the University of North Carolina. Saddler's decision comes just a few weeks after the FHSAA extended the spring sports postponement.

"I was worried that since the season got cancelled and I wasn't able to complete my senior season, run at the state championships and have additional opportunities that I wouldn't be able to sign the traditional way," he said. "I'm so excited that I can now announce to the world that I'm going to the University of North Carolina."

Saddler visited the Tar Heels in early February and had an experience that rose above the remaining schools in his top five, the University of Florida, Iowa, Pittsburgh and Princeton.

"When I went there the team just made me feel at home," Saddler said. "I love their coaching staff, facilities, everything was great... The weekend I went they actually played their rival, Duke. That's always a big rivalry game because UNC and Duke are historically matched. There was so much hype around that game, going in the stadium was electric, everyone was super excited."

The senior will be joining a program that's pretty fresh. In 2019, the Tar Heels found themselves under the new leadership of Chris Miltenberg and welcomed a new support staff. Saddler trusts the direction of this new era after taking his visit.

"With UNC having the new staff, that's almost a red flag, but where the coaches came from and the vision that they presented to me, it all sounds positive and good," he said. "Everything just sounded like it has a positive trajectory moving forward."

Saddler is excited to work closely with assistant coach over sprints and hurdles, Adrian Wheatley. Wheatley is joining the Tar Heels after nine seasons of coaching at Illinois. During his time with the Fighting Illini he coached 10 time All-American hurdler, David Kendziera.

"Our relationship has just been phenomenal," Saddler said. "From the moment he started recruiting me I felt like he was a mentor and father figure to me. He always told me everything straight up, he never hides anything and he's a very stand up person - very honest. He listens to every word I say and puts it into perspective."

Currently, the hurdler is being coached by professional hurdler for Haiti and Olympian, Jeffrey Julmis. Saddler dropped three seconds in his 300mh in their first year of training which led him to a third place finish at the 2019 FHSAA 2A Outdoor Championships.

Saddler credits Julmis for his hurdle success, saying the Olympian was one of the most vital parts of his hurdling career.

"Determined - that's probably the best word to describe him [Saddler]," Julmis said. "From the time he got to Gibbons he was determined to be the best and run 35. Unfortunately, we didn't get the entire season this year to reach that goal. But he was definitely determined to get there, and I don't doubt he would've gotten there... I think what also made things different for him was being in a shape he's never been in before."

Five meets into 2020, Saddler set new personal bests in four events: 21.65 (200m), 48.89 (400m), 14.29w (110mh) and 36.98 (300mh). His new personal best in 300mh places him at US No. 5 and with a full season of consistency and improvement, who's to say he couldn't have competed for the No. 1 spot?

However, the senior wasn't looking to achieve any specific goals this season. He said his original goal was to finish strong and injury free to help his team win a state title. But with the unprecedented response to the Coronavirus, Saddler has to look at the bigger picture.

"Of course, I was upset because I wasn't able to get that potential state championship," he said. "But, in my family we have a motto, it's God's timing is perfect, meaning God never makes mistakes. So, if we have a problem and we're like why is this happening, in the long run God is always going to make sure it works out for us, in his plan and his timing."

Looking back over his career, Saddler has come a long way in such a short time.

From beginning his hurdling career in the summer going into his junior year to signing to one of the best Division I schools, academically and athletically. With only time in his way before he starts his next journey, Saddler is more than eager to take his next steps.

"I'm very proud of myself and how far I've come in a very short amount of time," Saddler said. "I'm proud I was able to PR still in this short season. At the same time, I'm still very hungry because of missing out on these state championships. It almost feeds my hunger going into college. Since I missed out on states in high school, I have to go get these national championships in college."