LOGAN, Utah – Considering how successful he’s been during his track career at Utah State, one would never suspect AJ Boully being frightened before a big race – any race for that matter.
But, he does.
“Honestly, I’m secretly scared every time I get on the field,” said Boully, who graduated from Utah State earlier this month with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. “It’s terrifying. It could be at nationals, it could be at the (Mark) Faldmo (Invitational), it could be at anything. I am very much aware of how people can just PR out of nowhere, or what seems like nowhere – maybe just suddenly run to their potential and it can catch you off guard.”
Because of that fear, Boully esteems every competitor he’s up against.
“I respect everybody who goes onto the field and I race as if every single person out there has the potential to win or beat me,” Boully said. “Racing under that guise, or pressure, it can kind of scare you a little because there are seven other people who can beat me, so I have to prove that I’m better than them. Sometimes it’s not as bad if we go to a smaller meet, but I run like that every time. Right before the blocks, I just get scared and am terrified. But as soon as I get in there, I feel a lot more comfortable and when the gun goes, it’s just all downhill from there.”
Boully will be feeling that fear several times this week as he is one of 18 Aggies who will be competing this week at the NCAA West Preliminary Championships in Austin, Texas.
The son of Danny Boully and Suzanne Mercer will compete in the 400-meter hurdles and anchor the 4×400-meter relay team, which ranks 17th in the west with an altitude-converted time of 3:05.97, which the Aggies set at the MW Outdoor Championships. Boully ranks sixth in the west (10th nationally) in the 400m hurdles with a time of 49.58, which he set at the 90th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays. Boully, a two-time All-American, is making his third trip to the West Prelims.
“I know the venue really well, so having regionals there is really fun and it’s going to be comfortable for me,” Boully said.
Even before he steps foot on the track at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin later this week, Boully has already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest sprinters/hurdlers to ever compete for the Aggies.
After all, he ranks in the Utah State’s top-10 lists a whopping 15 times, including holding the school record in both the indoor and outdoor 4x400m relay with times of 3:07.23 and 3:04.48, respectively.
“While not very vocal, he has still proven to be a great leader,” said first-year USU sprints/hurdles coach Jeramie Murray. “He gives the rest of our guys a lot of confidence, as well. They know they have one of the best to train with every day and compete with each meet. This has really helped all of our sprint/hurdle guys this year, and they have all responded very well in the biggest moments.”
That’s for sure. In all five 4x400m races Boully has anchored this season, the team has placed first each time, including a fourth consecutive Mountain West title in the event with a meet- and facility-record time of 3:05.53.
“AJ has got it all,” veteran Utah State head coach Gregg Gensel said. “He is smart, studies it out and races well. He is a competitor. He does not like to lose. That’s what you want. AJ is a special person.”
In fact, Boully has competed in 17 events during the 2017 outdoor season and recorded 10 first-place finishes. He has placed in the top-four all 17 times.
During his indoor and outdoor career with the Aggies, Boully has placed in the top-10 a total of 110 times out of the 119 events he has competed in (92.4 percent). Even more, he has crossed the finish line first a combined 42 times (35.2 percent of the time).
“I knew he was talented, but I have been very impressed with his confidence and calm demeanor during competition,” Murray said. “He is unfazed by his competition and stays very focused on his own race plan.”
Boully, who prepped at Borah High School in Boise, Idaho, began his Utah State career during the 2010-11 season. Following the 2011-12 campaign, he served an LDS Church Mission to Atlanta, Ga. Upon returning, Boully rejoined the team as a junior in 2015-16, when his stock really rose as a competitor.
Boully earned three all-Mountain West honors during the 2016 indoor season and two more at the Outdoor Championships, including a stunning victory in the 400m hurdles. Boully stumbled over the third hurdle he encountered, but managed to stay on his feet and overcame Boise State’s Fernando Martinez at the last possible second to cross the finish line first with a time of 51.14 seconds. Martinez was second with a time of 51.16.
“After hitting it, I knew that the only thing I could do was recover and focus on making sure I could put myself in a good position,” Boully recalled. “Coming into the last 100 I knew that I could win, it would just have to be a lot harder than I wanted it to be. Luckily, he was on my outside so I had a pretty good idea. I knew exactly where he was the entire race, which was really fortunate. I could see in my peripheral where he was in comparison to me and I just felt myself slowly catching up to him.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Boully continued, “and I don’t know where that last little bit came from, but being able to get that lean in at the very last second was all I needed to get.”
Former Utah State sprint/hurdles Giles McDonnell affectionately coined the term “Boully Charge” after seeing Boully turn on the jets down the stretch to snatch victory at the last possible moment.
“Coach McDonnell made that up because he always said I would sandbag half of my race and then charge the last little bit,” Boully said. “I’m not sandbagging, I just don’t have the energy to go out as hard as some people do and I can last a little bit longer in races. I wouldn’t recommend people running like that, but that’s pretty much how I’ve always ran and there’s just something about running and then seeing someone in front of you.
“I can’t let my teammates down or anything. There is something inside of me that I have already made the decision that I’m not going to lose if I can help it. When I see someone right there, I just fight for it. Sometimes that means I go harder in the end than it looks like I do in the beginning, but the (Boully Charge) has become something – more than I ever wanted it to be.”
Boully capped his junior season by garnering second-team All-American honors after placing 12th in the semifinals of the 4x400m (3:06.41) at the NCAA Outdoor Finals in Eugene, Ore., and earning honorable mention All-American honors in the 400m hurdles (52.67) by placing 20th in the semifinals.
He will look to conclude his Aggie career in similar fashion, by qualifying for a return trip to historic Hayward Field in Eugene, where he will once again look to overcome his fears and chase down all competitors standing in his way.
“I’m ready to run,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”