EUGENE, Ore. – For most of his life, Drew Piazza was focused on pursuing his dream of playing professional soccer in the U.S.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Danvers High School in Massachusetts that he even thought about track and field when a friend suggested he join the team to build fitness for soccer.
By his senior year, Piazza discovered he was a much better middle distance runner than midfielder, and while he still loved soccer, his goal shifted to finding a spot on a Division I track and field program. His search kept him close to home when he enrolled at the University of New Hampshire and chose to join the track team as a walk-on.
“I wanted to excel at something I enjoyed, and I was beginning to realize that I really enjoyed track,” said Piazza, 24, who is now in his first season with Oregon Track Club Elite. “I started to train as hard as I could, and when I did that, I began to improve exponentially.”
Unfortunately, his rapid growth as a runner stalled after his junior year, and Piazza chose to transfer to Virginia Tech for his final season of collegiate track and field eligibility.
Under the tutelage of head coach Ben Thomas, Piazza quickly established himself as a legitimate talent by placing second in the 800 meters at both the ACC and NCAA Indoor Championships in 2017. At the NCAA meet, Piazza finished behind UTEP freshman Emmanuel Korir, a native Kenyan who was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 800m last year by Track & Field News.
“That was definitely a huge breakthrough,” Piazza said. “I knew then that I had made the right decision (to transfer); the entire time I was at Virginia Tech I kept hoping I wasn’t washed up, that this wasn’t the end.”
In fact, it was just the beginning.
During the ensuing outdoor season, Piazza claimed the ACC 800m title with a personal best of 1:46.76. He went on to finish 6th in that event at the NCAA Championships at Hayward Field, and ultimately lowered his PR to 1:45.69 with a surprising fifth-place performance at the USATF Outdoor Championships.
His time still stands as a Virginia Tech record and he closed the season ranked 6th in the U.S. in the 800m.
Piazza needed one more year of schooling to graduate with a degree in Civil Engineering. He spent the 2018 track season competing as a first-year pro while still training with his former Virginia Tech teammates – most notably Neil Gourley and Vincent Ciattei.
“I wasn’t on the team, but I was in school,” Piazza said. “That was really good for me. I got used to doing things by myself.”
Later that summer, everything changed when Piazza, Gourley and Ciattei learned that Coach Thomas had accepted the job as men’s distance coach at the University of Oregon. He was still willing to be their coach, but they would have to move across the country to Eugene.
Thomas added one last inducement – there was a possibility that all three could get some help from OTC Elite.
“Almost as a joke, we were talking about what if OTC could get all three of us together,” Piazza said. “And then we got the e-mail that they wanted us to come out (to Eugene). I remember yelling and calling those guys. This is exactly what I wanted.”
All three former Virginia Tech standouts are now official members of OTC Elite under the watchful eye of coach Mark Rowland. Piazza and Gourley already have had some early success indoors, while Ciattei is looking forward to making his pro debut during the outdoor season.
As for Piazza, he couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot.
“This is perfect,” he said. “I don’t care about the money. I care about running here in this community, in this awesome place. I now have the opportunity to do what I want to do … it’s literally a dream come true.”