Kunle Fasasi knew if he was to progress in his sport, he would have to leave his home in Nigeria and become a student-athlete in the United States.
Fasasi, a sophomore sprinter at UF, said when he came back from the IAAF World Junior Championships — where he was a 400-meter qualifier and ran on the Nigerian 4x400 team — he realized that he needed better facilities and support to take his ability to the next level.
While he had only begun training for competitive sprinting two years earlier, Fasasi said he was living in an area of Nigeria that wasn’t interested in track and field.
“Where I came from, it’s not like a really sports-promoted environment,” he said. “It’s more like just academics, and you just go about your everyday life.”
As a result, he decided to come to the U.S. to speak with recruiters. Coaches from Clemson, LSU and a few others showed interest in Fasasi, but he said when he got a chance to come to UF, he knew becoming a Gator would give him the best opportunity to improve in his main event — the 400-meters.
Fasasi made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2016. He helped the UF men’s 4x400 relay team to a conference title at the SEC Indoor Championships and to runner-up finishes at both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor championships. The runner-up finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championship helped Florida win its third NCAA Outdoor Championship since 2012.
The 20-year-old, who traveled almost 6,000 miles to go to Florida, said he feels blessed to be there and knows how far he has progressed. However, Fasasi said he doesn’t pay attention to the fact he came from Nigeria anymore.
“That’s a part of my history, but I’m here now,” he said. “I train every day like Americans and Jamaicans… like the top athletes in the county. I have the facilities available to me to be one of the best athletes.”
He will see how well the Florida facilities and coaches have prepared him this weekend when the Florida track and field team competes at the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Fasasi, a two-time USTFCCCA Outdoor All-American in 2016, is scheduled to compete in the men’s 400-meters — his first 400m race of the season — and will serve as the anchor of the men’s 400-meter relay team. He said he believes he has put in his best each day at practice, which has resulted in his coach trusting in him to be the anchor.
“It’s an honor, definitely,” Fasasi said.
At the Hokie Invitational, Florida track and field coach Mike Holloway wants Fasasi and others competing to “run a little bit faster” than they did at their meet at Clemson on Jan. 7.
Holloway said he’s not looking for the Gators to be their best this weekend. He said he wants the team to be its best in five weeks at the SEC Indoor Championships and “their absolute best” two weeks later at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
“We’re just trying to get better,” said Holloway. “At this time of year, it’s all about progression. It’s all about being patient and just trying to get a little bit better each week.”
As for Fasasi, as long as his coaches are happy with his performance, he said he’ll have no complaints on the way home.
“I take each day as it comes at practice — do what you have to do,” he said. “If you put in your best every day, then it accumulates into a good Fall session or a good season.”
Kunle Fasasi races in the 400-meter dash during the Florida Relays on April 1, 2016, at the Percy Beard Track.