The past 20 years have seen significant developments in the world of NCAA sports. But three things have remained constant for The Citadel’s track and field team—Jody Huddleston, Kris Kut and dedicated student-athletes.
The director of the cross country and track and field program, Huddleston has been coaching the sport since 1986. Part of an Air Force family, Huddleston started running track in high school. “I was cut from the basketball team, so I went out for track,” said Huddleston, “and I just stuck with it.”
Kut, track and field’s head coach and an Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, has been with The Citadel in some form since 1996, when he matriculated with the Class of 2000. In his cadet career, Kut was a four-year letter winner. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science, he continued his education at The Citadel, earning his master’s degree in health, exercise and sport science in 2003. “I got an opportunity to stay on and help, and basically never left,” said the former college javelin record holder.
Both coaches believe that what makes track and field at The Citadel unique is not only the military mission, but the mission of the team. “Our goal is not just to throw them to the curb after four years,” said Kut. “We want them to be part of this family forever. You’ll see a lot of these kids come back to visit and watch practice. It is a commitment for a lifetime. We’re a family here.” A silver picture frame on the end of Huddleston’s desk shows Kut is not exaggerating. In the photo that dates back to 2000, the two stand in front of an orange track. Kut, a graduate student, is dressed out in his shiny Citadel blue uniform.
This student-family approach is not just a wish from the coaching staff. Tatiana Corso, CGC ’23, said the track and field team filled a void in her life. A native of Verona, Italy, the master’s of sport management graduate knew she wanted to continue competing as a thrower while she pursued her next level of education. After completing her undergraduate degree in exercise science in Italy, the then-redshirt junior set her sights on the United States. “Back home we don’t have college sports, so if you want to study and play, the two have to be separate. It’s hard to work with the schedule, so I started looking to the U.S.—sports here are very different.”
Corso came to The Citadel on a track and field scholarship and throws everything but the javelin. She earned first place in shot put at the Liberty Open and third at the Southern Conference Outdoor Championship in 2022. As much as she loves competing and pushing her physical limits, Corso sees the biggest value in the camaraderie of being a Citadel athlete. “We just cheer for each other. It doesn’t matter if someone’s jumping or running, you just see The Citadel on their shirt and you scream for them. It makes a difference in competition.” Corso also worked on campus, up to 20 hours per week, while balancing class and training.
Being a smaller program can also make a difference. “We have the time to spend with the athletes, whereas big schools are worried about getting their All-Americans qualifying for nationals,” said Kut. “We can take walk-ons and develop them, but it doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of these kids don’t do much their freshman year, but by the time they’re seniors, they are All-Conference.”
“The goal is to churn out not just great athletes, but leaders for a lifetime,” said Huddleston. “We want these kids to excel academically, athletically and in the Corps.”
Kut agreed, adding that 50% of the 2022-2023 team was contracted to enter the military after graduation. “We always tell our kids that we’re going to teach you to be professional in something other than sports,” said Kut.
Beyond earning more than their fair share of Gold Stars and cadet rank, the team also puts in time serving the community by volunteering at local races, holding food drives and teaching kids the fundamentals of track. “Ultimately, it is about making good citizens,” said Kut. “We stress that you are not just here to be an athlete.”
For Corso, coming to The Citadel has been more than just a chance to keep competing. “Coach Kut gave me the best opportunity of my life, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.”