SOMERSET, NJ - Mario Heslop crossed the finish line and recently ended his recruitment by committing and signing to North Carolina A&T State University.

Heslop, a senior at Franklin High School and the top track athlete in New Jersey, was considering Rutgers, LSU, Tennessee, Florida, and Ohio State down the stretch, but chose the school from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

“I chose N.C. A&T because of the culture. It’s an HBCU (historically black college or university). I feel like they can have a big impact on my career,” Heslop told on Thursday. “They have a great team and the academics are really good. I felt like no matter what school I chose, I knew I would perform my best.”

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When Heslop visited campus and the program, he fell in love. He saw something there he didn’t anywhere else.

Behind traditional larger schools in the latest U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll, both the N.C. A&T men’s and women’s track and field teams are are ranked No. 6 in the country, the highest-ever for an HBCU.

“When I went on my visit, it was exciting. I went to a practice and they were all working hard. There was a lot of inspiration and motivation,” Heslop said. “Everyone was focused on getting better. I was thinking this is where I want to be and what I want. I want motivation and someone who isn’t going to let me give up. Even if they were tired, they were running hard. I knew this was the team I wanted to be a part of and will help me get further.”

“They were very excited. I was thinking about it one day and I was just like, ‘You know what, let me call these coaches and tell them i want to commit to the school and I’m ready to sign’. I got so many congratulation and he was very happy. He told me he was going to get the best out of me and help me reach my goals.”

Heslop wrapped up the indoor season in style a few months ago in Toms River winning two Meet of Champions titles in the 200-meter dash and the 400m. He won the national title by taking first place in the 200m at the New Balance Nationals Indoor with the fourth-best time in United States high school history in 20.90 seconds.

Heslop has won a slew of individual medals and helped Franklin as a team win Group 4 as well. He also has outdoor personal records 10.44 in the 100m, 20.97 in the 200m, and 46.73 in the 400m. Aside from his state record in the 200m, he is also first all-time in the 300m at 33.26 and tied for the Garden State best in the 55m at 6.26.

Those eye-popping times don’t come by accident. They are products of hard work and determination, something he feels he can bring to the Aggies.

“When I get there I will bring strength and my spirit. I’ll make sure I work hard as a freshman and try and get the best out of my abilities,” Heslop said. “When the other guys see a freshman working hard, they’ll all want to work even harder. I think I’ll be a big part of the team and bring my work ethic and what I know.”

Heslop hails from Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to the United States in middle school and has taken everything in stride since.

“It’s a big deal,” Heslop said. “One of the reasons why I wanted to come to the United States of America was to make something of what I didn’t have in Jamaica. Some people think it’s nothing, but to me, i wanted to come to the United States for a better education and to have a better life.

“I got here to do something. Some people take it for granted. I put my mind to it and I told myself I wasn’t going to go fool around and let opportunities go to waste and I was going to make something of myself and take it and keep moving forward and not stop and keep pushing.”

So far this spring season the 2019 Indoor MileSplit Athlete of the Year and Winter Track Athlete of the Year has won the 100m, 200m, and 400m at the Skyland Conference Championships and hopes to finish out the last month of the senior year on a high note.

“There’s only one month left of my senior year. I want to make sure i give it my all,” Heslop said. “In my last race, i want to leave it all out there. I want to make sure I’m injury free and work toward personal records. I’m going to miss the school.”

Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.

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