Athletes and Leaders for a Lifetime

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.”

The Hard Road

Nobody said it would be easy, and 2nd Lt. Charles Corte, ’23, would not have had it any other way.

That’s why the mechanical engineering major and former Alpha Company commander sought out a commission as an Air Force tactical air control party officer. Part of special warfare, a TACP officer is responsible for calling in air strikes from the ground for the Army or Marine unit in which he or she is embedded. “You’re basically a lifesaver… your job is not only to return fire, but also to call in an air strike while doing so.”

Though he grew up surrounded by Auburn fans—and without a significant military legacy in his family—the Alabama native knew he wanted a challenge beyond the traditional college experience. A recipient of the Air Force ROTC scholarship, Corte initially came to The Citadel with aspirations of being a pilot, but he soon changed his target from the skies to the ground after participating in an Air Force Special Forces preparation group on campus. Corte recalls his first workout: a 1,500-meter swim. Despite never having swum more than 100 meters, Corte was able to keep up. After that, he was hooked. Corte buckled down and continued to train, improving his running and taking up weightlifting. By his sophomore year, he knew special warfare was what he wanted to pursue.

The TACP position stood out because they “get the most time outside the wire,” said Corte, who has known since he was 10 years old that being behind a desk was not for him. “That was around the time Osama Bin Laden was killed. That was a big factor. The people behind the desk are doing an important job, but I want to be on the front lines.”

Getting there was not easy, though. Corte first applied in February of his junior year but was not selected. While he had put in the extra hours to get himself ready physically, it was his leadership, he was told, that he still needed to develop. “I thought I was going to go out there and get smoked. I’ve been through that; I can get it done. But it is also a constant leadership evaluation, which I did not expect. I hadn’t prepared for that. I was just not ready.” But six months later, when he was able to apply again, he made sure he was.

“The Citadel helps a ton because it gives you a chance to practice your leadership every single day. When I stepped into the role of athletic officer in the Air Force attachment, my job was to get people to do something that everyone hates: regimental PT. That helped me learn to motivate others—I had to have empathy and understand what will get them to push.”

With a constant drive to improve, Corte combined lessons from his day-to-day role as a cadet and a list of books he read on leadership to prepare for the physical and mental tests that would be the first two phases of the TACP officer pipeline. Corte learned to view stress in a positive light, which allowed him to stay focused under pressure. “When times were getting tough, I would take a deep breath and think, ‘You’re not nervous, you’re ready to go.’ I would just stay calm and help my team out the best I could.”

The work paid off. Corte ended up being one of the four candidates, out of the 15 who started, selected to continue through the TACP pipeline. There is still a long road ahead before becoming a fully operational TACP officer—the process takes around two and a half years, said Corte, but he is excited for the challenge. Eventually, he would like to go to Ranger School and end up at the 17th Special Tactics Squadron. He insists he never would have considered any of it had he followed the expected path, instead of choosing The Citadel.

“My life would not be the same. I would have gone to Auburn and then goofed off. I would not have gotten into the shape I needed to be in or learned the discipline that I needed to do this job. Being a cadet instills the sense of having to do something to a higher level. You have the whole school to support you with the necessary pillars. You might as well take advantage of it.”

Outside the Classroom

In 2003, we shared the story of Jacoby Davis, ’04, at the time a rising senior from North Carolina who spent the summer on the Cooper River studying an invasive vine called the Ludwigia hexapetala. As The Citadel magazine celebrates its 20th anniversary, cadets continue to find real-world applications for their academic pursuits. Like Davis, Elijah Holder, ’23, could be found stepping outside the classroom, asking important questions to find valuable answers for the world.

Holder wants to understand how things work, which is why the Warsaw, Indiana, native chose to major in electrical engineering. “When most people look at a computer, they think, there’s a button to push, and it turns on,” said Holder. “I always wanted to know how it turns on. What’s happening behind the scenes with those circuits?”

For Holder, engineering is not just a list of classes to pass. The four-year scholarship recipient and president of the Engineering Honor Society wants not only to understand the world around him but to ensure others do as well. “People took time to explain things to me as a kid, and that is what really got me interested.”

Holder said his team’s senior design project was more complicated than most. Leading a project called the Rocket-Based Atmospheric Sampling System, the budding Naval nuclear submarine propulsion officer set out to become an advocate for nuclear energy.

The five-person team, which included three veteran students and an Army contract cadet in addition to Holder, designed a payload that can be launched up to 10,000 feet in the air in order to analyze the atmospheric conditions. The goal? A grassroots effort to keep power plants, as well as corporations, accountable for their impact on the environment. Additionally, the payload can be released over a meltdown site like Chernobyl to help save lives. “They didn’t know the radiation was spreading,” said Holder of the 1986 nuclear disaster site.

The aim is not simply to detect disaster, but also to put people at ease when the atmosphere is safe. “It’s a watchdog effort. If we do things correctly, we can use these tools for the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario.”

Holder believes nuclear energy has great potential, if only the public were better informed about its benefits. “Conventional green energy options, like wind turbines and solar panels, take up a lot of space. With nuclear power, you can get 100 times more energy out of the same area. Nuclear submarines never have to refuel, except for food.”

Each member of Holder’s design team contributed a wide range of skills and experience to the project. “One of the best aspects of this project is the interdisciplinary nature of it,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department Head Mark McKinney, Ph.D. “The joint work from mechanical, electrical and computer engineering students really highlights the true nature of engineering: that it takes coordination between many different disciplines to succeed.”

The rocket itself, said Holder, required the skills of mechanical engineer Manny Malar, ’22, whose senior design team built a rocket the year before and has served as the go-to expert for Holder’s team. “Rockets are complicated things. Manny is putting on the very sensitive elements—they need to be just right,” said McKinney. “Every member of this group is exceptional in his or her own right. The group represents a true cross section of our amazing students in the ECE Department, and they have done a remarkable job on an incredibly challenging project.”

Holder is passionate, not just about nuclear energy or his class project, but about making engineering accessible to all. “One skill that many engineers lack is communication with people who are non-technical. To communicate in a respectful way that allows other people to understand me is important. Nikola Tesla and Steve Jobs would never have been able to carry out their visions without these skills,” said Holder. “I’ve tried to become a better communicator.”

Holder says he has learned a great deal about teamwork through this project, and, of course, how critical communication can be. “I would like to incorporate that knowledge into my leadership as an ensign in the Navy. I think this experience will really help me understand how to delegate tasks and communicate with people.”

The Character Spectrum

Since the inaugural issue, we have highlighted examples of the Four Pillars in action each year. In 2003, we wrote about Leadership and Ethics, a Naval ROTC capstone course taught by Marine Corps Col. Ralph Tice. Tice, a member of the Class of 1974, combined philosophy with case studies in moral dilemmas. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2022, but he left behind a legacy that lives on in the cadets he taught.

Character encompasses a broad spectrum, and for this issue, we decided to focus on an exciting service project that teaches cadets about the importance of the environment.

Robert Lowe, who graduated in May, chose The Citadel because he was looking for a unique college experience. “I wanted structure and to be proud of what I did, and to create a better life for my family.” A political science major with a fine arts minor, Lowe never imagined standing waist-deep in mud on a humid Wednesday afternoon in March. But the now-Army second lieutenant jumped at the chance to participate in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource’s marsh restoration project in West Ashley. The organization received $1.5 million from the National Coastal Resilience Fund in September of 2022 to replenish the habitat in historic Maryville. Lowe, who did not know what a healthy marsh should look like, said “I’m not an environmental scientist, so I thought the dry marsh was typical of Charleston, but it was not supposed to be that way.”

According to Michael Hodges of the SCDNR, the marsh grass may have suffered from significant drought in the 2010-2012 timeframe and again from tropical storms in 2015 and 2016.

Lowe was not exactly sure what he was getting into when he volunteered—literally. “I wasn’t expecting that amount of mud,” he said. But the result of the afternoon of work was immediately noticeable. After digging channels to increase water flow and vegetation growth, the cadets watched in amazement as the clouds opened. “As it rained, all the water started down the channel we just built. It was amazing to see how big a difference we made,” said Lowe. “We were watching living science right in front of us.”

For Hodges, the project was an opportunity to teach cadets a valuable lesson about the environment. “Marshes,” he said, “are vital to the health of our estuaries and provide many ecosystem services, which are beneficial to the environment and humans alike.”

The mission of Service Learning and Community Engagement at The Citadel is to prepare educated, engaged citizens, strengthen values and civic responsibility, and contribute to the public good. The Krause Center organized more than 3,250 volunteers who contributed over 23,000 hours of community service dedicated to the environment in the 2022-2023 school year.

“Our collaboration with community partners sets The Citadel apart,” said Alaina Rink, CGC ’22, who coordinates these programs for the Krause Center. “Cadets and faculty genuinely want to serve others and are delighted to do so in engaging service projects. It’s part of the culture.”

The involvement of cadets is integral to the restoration of the West Ashley marsh, not simply for the tangible work that is done, but because such programs create community involvement and awareness of the local environment. It is not just about completing the project but instilling a lifetime of environmental consciousness and care. “We truly believe,” said Hodges, “that volunteers in our program can accomplish great things if provided with the appropriate opportunities.”

That was exactly the lesson Lowe took home from his day in the mud: an understanding of just how much humans can alter their environment, negatively or positively, without realizing it. “Whatever you do daily has an impact. I saw how much one person can affect something,” he said. “This project taught me anyone can make a difference.”

Someday, Lowe hopes to be in a position to make experiential learning a regular part of education. “I love gardening. I love plants. I love getting my hands deep into the soil.” Lowe would like to create a school where students would learn about the Earth in a hands-on way every day. “Going outside and being in the environment—this is how it is supposed to be. I want to share that feeling.”