Bilal Abdullah didn’t complete his first full season of track & field until his senior year of high school.
Now a senior at Kennesaw State, Abdullah competes in combined events and has swept the Atlantic Sun Men’s Indoor Track & Field weekly awards three times this season. He set a school record in 2015 by becoming the first Owl to ever score in an NCAA Indoor Championship – finishing fourth overall in the heptathlon.
Abdullah attended Brookwood High School in Snellville, Georgia, where he was a member of the varsity basketball team.
During his sophomore year at Brookwood, Abdullah’s German teacher persistently pestered him to go out for the track team. Although the season was already underway, he agreed to join the team. At his first meet, Abdullah’s high jump qualified him for the regional playoffs.
Shortly after the meet, however, Abdullah broke his ankle while playing basketball. With hopes of potentially playing on the hardwood in college, he opted to stay away from track and focus solely on basketball
When senior year rolled around and he had received minimal college offers for basketball, Abdullah decided to give track & field another shot.
“I wasn’t even that good at first,” Abdullah said. “I was jumping 6’2 on the high jump and running the 400m in about 50 seconds. I moved up to a 6’4 on the high jump, then, out of nowhere, jumped a 6’8. That’s when my coach started telling me that this was probably for me and I should stick with it.”
At the Georgia High School Association Track & Field State Championships, Abdullah met KSU assistant coach Agne Eggerth, who recruited him to be an Owl. Having never previously heard of the school, he researched the program and scheduled an official visit.
He fell in love with the school and the coaching staff on the visit and later accepted the offer to be on the track & field team in Kennesaw.
In his first year at KSU, Abdullah earned the Men’s Most Outstanding Freshman Athlete Award for Indoor. He set three school records at the Samford Invitational – most points in the heptathlon (4890), high jump (2.0m) and 60-meter dash (7.09). He placed second in the A-Sun Championships in the 60-meter hurdles (8.30) and in the high jump (2.10m/6’10. 75ft).
He excelled in Outdoor his freshman year as well, earning the Men’s Most Outstanding Freshman Performer. He won the A-Sun Championship in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 14.51.
In spite of the accolades and accomplishments, Abdullah admits that he struggled with an adjustment period during his first couple of years at KSU.
“I came from basketball, so my heart was still in basketball coming out of high school,” Abdullah said. “I didn’t put my all into freshman year. I came to practice, lifted weights, and the stuff that was expected but my heart still wasn’t in it. It showed because I was getting hurt playing basketball on the side and things like that. It took a lot of maturing and I still had a lot of growing to do.”
Abdullah dealt with ankle injuries in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. The setbacks opened his eyes to his lack of dedication and allowed him to refocus all of his attention for optimal success.
“You could see when the light clicked for him his junior year,” KSU director of Track & Field Andy Eggerth said. “Because he came out with Andre [Dorsey] and did a lot of extra stuff in the summer with voluntary pole vaulting, weight lifting, and that type of thing. That’s when he went from being good in A-Sun, but not even making the NCAA qualifying mark, to being fourth in the NCAA championships and kind of shocking the world.”
In his junior year, Abdullah’s 5,941 points in the NCAA Championships heptathlon bested his own school record by over 1,000 points. He also set school records in the 60m hurdles (7.87), 400m (47.93) and 4×400 relay (3:13.17). He was named to the 2015 A-Sun Conference First Team All-Conference for Indoor (Heptathlon) and Outdoor (Decathlon).
“I want to leave a legacy behind,” Abdullah said. “I want the culture to stay how it is. I don’t want it to just break down completely when my class leaves. I want all of the seniors, myself included, to build up the freshmen that are coming in and still stick with the school for a while [after we graduate] and help out the culture.”
Eggerth reiterated the importance of seeing the culture continue to grow. He suggested that without it, an incoming freshman who has the talent — but might not be fully committed like Abdullah was originally — might not have the chance to see his talents fully develop down the road.
The Owls have two more indoor meets before the A-Sun Conference Championships Feb. 26. They will travel to Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, Feb. 7 for the Jaguar Invitational. Later that week, they will go to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Don Kirby Elite Indoor Invitational on Feb. 12 – Feb. 13.