Oct. 17, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – If you haven’t heard of Ty McCormack, there’s a good chance you will. You might hear of him as one of the top cross-country runners in the Southeastern Conference. And years from now, you might hear of him in matters far more important than college athletics.
McCormack is the oldest son of Gainesville, Ga., lawyer Thad McCormack, an Auburn graduate and former Auburn baseball player, and his wife Kelly. He continued a century-old family tradition when enrolled at Auburn last summer. But he didn’t take the usual route.
First, he was a cross-country standout at Clemson who graduated magna cum laude in three years with a degree in language and international trade. His focus was on Chinese language, culture and business. Last year, he spent the fall semester studying in Kunming, China, a “small town of 8 million.”
And now he’s at Auburn, working on his MBA and making major waves on Auburn’s cross-country team. Already, he’s been named SEC Male Runner of the Week. He is a key part of what cross country coach Mark Carroll calls “the best Auburn team in some time.”
McCormack might have been at Auburn as a freshman had it not been for a teacher who taught Chinese at North Hall High School.
“My mom is a flight attendant, so she raised me in a very international environment,” McCormack says. “My freshman year in high school, I started taking Chinese and had an awesome teacher for it. I ended up developing a relationship with him. By the time I was a senior in high school starting to choose my major and what I wanted to do in life, I was already fluent in Mandarin Chinese. I thought that would be a skill not many southerners have and decided to pursue that.”
Auburn had no Chinese program. Clemson did. And so it was that McCormack went off to Clemson to study Chinese and run cross-country and distance races. For two years, he was Clemson’s highest finisher in every cross-country race. He was an All-ACC and all-region performer.
A requirement of his language major was that he spend a semester studying abroad, and in 2012 he flew away to China. He was there for six months. It was, he says, the experience of a lifetime.
“I met a lot of Chinese friends,” McCormack says. “It was a small town. A small town of about 8 million is what they say. For them, that’s tiny. I ended up playing on our school basketball team that won the city championship. I met the mayor and crazy stuff like that.
“I went over there by myself not knowing a soul. By the time I left, I was almost in tears saying goodbye to people that were some of my closest friends. I improved my Chinese ability. Speaking it every day and not speaking any English at all was definitely a valuable experience.”
McCormack hopes to return to China for an internship this summer and plans to do business there for years to come.
On Sept. 19, 1992, Thad McCormack held his two-day old son and watched on television as Auburn beat LSU 30-28 on a last-second field goal.
“I held that child of mine and said ‘This child is destined to beat LSU with a field goal one day,’” Thad says, choking up at the memory. “Twenty-one years later, he was at Auburn and LSU was at the Florida Invitational and Ty beat everyone on the LSU team. It wasn’t a field goal, but he beat LSU.”
As a child, Ty played football, basketball and baseball. As a high school sophomore, he went out for the track team to stay in shape for football. It was a turning point in his athletic life.
“I found out I could run for pretty long periods of time,” Ty says. “I didn’t really think about cross country as a sport until someone approached me after I got third in the regional meet and had a top 10 time in the state. People were saying I could really go places with it. I decided to dedicate myself to track and cross country. I quit football and basketball and started running and haven’t looked back since.”
His grand journey to Auburn had begun.
Thad McCormack, like generations of his family, has a deep love for Auburn. When fans were allowed onto the field after Auburn’s victory over Ole Miss, he and his 78-year-old mother were among them because she wanted to be there.
When Ty announced to his family that he was going to Clemson, the decision was not greeted with a lot of enthusiasm.
“It was a pretty shocking decision for them at first,” Ty says. “I was recruited by Auburn. I was ready to come here. Sometimes God leads you on different paths. I was the first person not to go to Auburn since 1904. If you’re going in the McCormack family, you go to Auburn.
“It was quite a controversial decision. We had some interesting Thanksgivings. I think it’s going to be better now that I’m back in the Auburn family.”
When Ty decided spend his last two years of eligibility at Auburn, no one was happier than his father.
“When I told him I was going to come to Auburn,” Ty says, “he said that was the happiest day of his life. He knew I belonged here and I knew I belonged here.”
And Carroll, the coach who recruited him hard for Auburn out of high school, is glad he’s back, too.
“He has a great attitude,” Carroll says. “He brings his best to practice every day. He’s a very committed young man. He works very hard and is determined to succeed. Our goal is that he challenge for an SEC individual title, and he believes he can do that.”
When Ty showed up after three years at Clemson, Carroll says he saw a more mature version of the same young man he knew as a high school senior.
“He’s aggressive,” Carroll says. “He loves to get straight to the front and get down to business. He has that go-getter attitude. He runs to win and you like to see that.”
It’s an attitude his father has seen since he was young. It manifests itself in athletics, in the classroom, in everything he does.
“He’s a driven guy,” his father says. “He always has been.”
For Ty, there was a comfortable familiarity with Auburn. He’d been there so many times for so many football games. He’d watched every game in the perfect season of 2004. Even as a Clemson student, he was in Glendale, Ariz., in January 2011 to cheer as Auburn won a national championship. His younger brother is an Auburn sophomore.
“It’s exceeded all my expectations,” Ty says. “I had grown up around here. Being a student, being at the games in the student section and being a student-athlete here has been even better than I ever imagined it would be. I’m really grateful for that.”
Ty will rarely perform in front of large crowds either in cross country or as a distance runner track. He says he harbors no resentment. In fact, he says he’s grateful because the football program makes money that allows him and others to compete.
“I’m just glad to be able to wear Auburn across my chest,” Ty says. “That’s all that really matters.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: