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Central Valley graduate Ben Craig earned a track scholarship to BYU, but he is putting that off for a two-year church mission to Russia. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

CV’s Ben Craig headed to Russia before landing at BYU

Central Valley senior Ben Craig had just finished third in the State 4A 110-meter hurdles, behind repeat champion Nick Johnson of Gonzaga Prep, when Craig approached the winner.

“Thank you for making me the best I could be,” Craig told Johnson.

As it turned out, it was an unparalleled last two years for hurdlers in the Greater Spokane League. Johnson, Craig, Bryan Anderson of Mead, Parker Bowden of CV and Joseph Heitman of Mead all pushed each other to excellence.

Craig beat Johnson once. That came in the 2015 regional finals. Craig’s time then, 14.35 seconds, earned him a scholarship offer from Brigham Young University. He finished fourth at state.

He would go on to post 14.30 as his all-time best, second in CV history.

Craig finished his spring senior season strong after having a breakout year in football.

He had seven interceptions last fall, tops in the state according to Maxpreps, and six in the GSL. The cornerback, who also started at wide receiver, was named to the 4A GSL’s all-league first team.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Craig is an example that what you see from middle school-aged athletes isn’t what you’re always going to get when they arrive at high school.

“He was a chubby baseball player that wasn’t very athletic as a seventh grader – the farthest thing from the BYU track scholarship athlete his senior year,” CV track coach Chuck Bowden said. “His freshman year he ran in the high 17-second range for a (personal best). He really transformed himself.”

Craig enjoyed the journey.

“I kept working and stayed around and persevered,” he said. “I didn’t come into high school as the known athlete. I made myself into what I became. It wasn’t until my junior year that I considered myself a good athlete.”

Craig planned to play football at CV but dropped baseball going into his freshman year “because it was too political.” So he tried track.

It turned out to be the best decision he made. He had never done track until high school.

Having so much competition in hurdles in the GSL was both a blessing and curse. Blessing because it made Craig as good as he could be as a high school athlete and a curse because he didn’t always win.

“It’s the best Spokane has ever seen in the last 40 years,” Bowden said.

Craig absolutely enjoyed his final football season. The Bears, who fell to Richland in the first round of the state playoffs, finished with 23 interceptions.

CV coach Rick Giampietri saw Craig’s transformation before his very eyes.

“He was our third cornerback as a junior,” Giampietri said.

Giampietri raved about Craig’s final season.

“He has such great speed, he never got beat deep,” said Giampietri, who specifically coached the secondary. “He had good range, long arms and made great plays for us. He actually could have had a couple more interceptions, maybe nine or 10. He had three against Ferris and probably could have had one more. He had it in his hands and it came out when he hit the turf.”

Craig is putting college track on hold. He heads off next week for a two-year mission through his church to eastern Siberia.

He will be based in Novosibirsk – the third most populated city in Russia at 1.4 million. The region has weather of all types.

“I’m probably going to the coldest mission I could,” Craig said. “It can get down to minus-40 and can get up to 85. Last week it was hotter there than it was here. They get a lot of snow there so we’ll use public transit mostly.”

Craig learned of his mission destination in the spring. When he applied for his mission he wrote that he was open to going “somewhere crazy.”

He got his wish.

“I wanted an adventure, I didn’t want anything boring,” he said. “I was really surprised at first. It seemed unreal. I’m excited to learn the language because it’s something that’s used all over the world. There are Russians here, too. It will be very useful in my life going forward.”

Before going to Russia, Craig will spend nine weeks familiarizing himself with the language. He’s done some advance work, learning the Russian alphabet. He took two years of German at CV, and he hopes that will serve him well if he encounters any Germans.

“I know a few things with the Russian language so it won’t be a hard learning curve,” he said.

Craig timed his mission so when he returns he can enroll at BYU in the fall of 2018.

An honors student, Craig graduated with a 3.98 grade-point average and ranked 12th in his class. He wants to study something in engineering.

Bowden will miss Craig.

“The hug he gave me at the end of state is as genuine as I’ve ever gotten,” Bowden said. “That’s why you coach, for relationships like that. Not for the titles won or other accolades.”

And Craig will miss Bowden.

“We really got to know each other on a personal level,” Craig said. “That was special having him along with the success I had. He was the one who believed I could do something great.”