Nature Coast Technical’s prolific distance runner Cody Van Natter is about to graduate. He’s one of 303 students expected to participate in the school’s commencement exercises on May 31.
Before the 18-year-old Van Natter hoists his mortar board in celebration, he recently signed a national letter of intent to compete next year in cross country and track and field for Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
He had boiled down his choices to a pair of Division II programs: University of Tampa and Florida Southern.
Van Natter could have followed the path of his older sister also graduated from NCT and the University of Tampa. She’s currently an elementary school teacher in Hillsborough County.
“UT is in city and there are a lot of internships available because of that,” declared Van Natter. “The campus is nice and I met with the coaches.
“I’ll be study physical therapy,” noted Van Natter. “And Florida Southern has ties with USF, so I won’t have to worry about graduate programs there.
“I’m going to college to get my education. I look at (distance) running as a means to an end,” declared Van Natter. “Cross country will be a privilege to compete in. I’m really more worried about getting my degree.”
On what sealed the deal, “I got to hang out with the guys at Florida Southern. (Former Central runner) Zach (Hall) is competing for (ex-Leopard standout) Coach (Ben) Martucci,” said Van Natter. “When Zach ran here he was in the 17s. Now, he’s running in the 15s. He’s a completely different runner.
“My goal is to make the travel squad. I’ll listen to whatever Coach Martucci says,” admits the 5-foot-10, 135-pound Van Natter. “If he can do what he did with Zach (Hall), I want to see what he can do with me.”
Unlike most distance runners, who prefer the much cooler climates, Van Natter prefers competing only 60 miles away from his current Brooksville campus.
“I could have chosen to compete out of state, but I don’t like the colder weather,” acknowledged Van Natter. “I’d rather run in 90-degree weather any time than in 30-40 degree weather.”
His older brother, Jeff, competes in cross country and track and field while attending D-II Saint Leo University in Pasco County.
Fueled by one of Hernando County’s finest distance runners, the Sharks’ cross country program reached all-time heights under the 1-2 punch of skipper Eric Milholland and his protégé – Van Natter.
After Van Natter’s controversial freshman year, where the Sharks went through four coaches in three months, when the mathematics instructor Milholland relocated from Central to the California Street campus, the program began to stabilize.
Under Milholland’s reigns, NCT began to ascend the state’s elite ladder. Over the Sharks’ next 31 races, the Brooksville thinclads finished in the top 10 29 times (94 percent). Of that total, NCT placed in the top 10 fifteen straight times.
Even more remarkable: NCT toted home 12 championship trophies – including a school-record six in 2011.
Not only did the Sharks capture back-to-back-to-back Hernando County crowns, but back-to-back district titles, a regional championship and earned three straight trips to the FHSAA Finals.
Van Natter was the centerpiece of the ascent. Over the next 36 months, Van Natter led the Sharks to the finish line a team-best 22 times across 31 3.1-mile courses (71 percent).
Demonstrating his consistency, Van Natter finished among the meet’s top 10 runners 55 percent of the time – or 17 times from 2010-12.
He concluded his prep career with a school record 40 races and five individual victories – highlighted by four in 2011.
Van Natter, who was pushed by teammates Kevin Ciccione, James Harkless and Stephen Murphy, was the clear three-peat choice as Hernando Today’s Runner of the Year.
He recently concluded his final season of track and field at states in Duval County.
“We placed fourth in regionals in the 4x8 (4x800 relay). That was our goal all along,” pointed out Van Natter. “I had dropped out of the 1,600 meters to concentrate on the 3,200.”
It was during the two-mile race in regionals were Van Natter blew a rare tire.
“I was one of three guys (Austin Mulyck and Stephen Murphy) on our team in the two-mile. Normally there aren’t many guys in that race until we reached regionals,” recalled Van Natter. “I remember a kid breaking out fast to set the pace. At that point, my mind wasn’t in the right place. As I started drifting back, I realized I wasn’t going to finish (top four); I was mentally broken.”
“Going to states was the highlight of my season,” noted Van Natter. “It’s too bad we didn’t finish in a position to place. It was just good to wear the (NCT) jersey one last time.”
Across Van Natter’s four varsity seasons of track and field under head coach Ryan Wilson, he and his teammates were district champions three times.
All told, the multi-talented Van Natter was a member of five district championship teams at NCT.
He explained his decision.
“My dad and my brother love the Dallas Cowboys. It’s all Cowboys with them. And I just couldn’t follow them,” he said. “So I picked the Texans.
“Even my (soccer) coach Ian Wald (a supreme Miami Dolphins fan) would give me grief in school whenever I wear my Texans gear. But I don’t care; it’s kind of fun.”
Van Natter describes himself in the mirror as “one of those people who can’t stand to watch games. I’d rather play.”
Van Natter, who carries 3.4 grade point average, credits his parents for helping him make the decision to become a Moccasin.
“I owe lot to my parents for helping me with my decision,” said Van Natter.
As far what his biggest obstacle in achieving success at the next level, “I have to study more,” pointed out Van Natter. “In college I can’t just show up and wing the tests. I really have to apply myself.”
By the Numbers: NCT’s Cody Van Natter (2009-12)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR RACES TIME
2009 9 17:37.65
2010*# 9 16:42.66^
2011*# 11 16:12.55^
2012*# 11 16:50.43
TOTALS 40 16:12.55
^ Denotes county leader
* Denotes All-County selection
# Denotes Hernando Today Runner of the Year