Cal State L.A.'s Khallifah Rosser has already won a national championship, tied a long-running school record and won an elite race at the legendary Mt. San Antonio College Relays in 2016.
Last week, the Summit High School graduate was in Oregon, trying to take his shot at the grandest goal of all: a spot on the United States Olympic Team.
Rosser advanced to the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials, but there his dream fell short and he did not qualify for the final round on July 10. Still, he has much potential for future greatness.
Previously, he had earned a spot at the Olympic Trials by posting a time of 49.04 while winning the NCAA Division II championship in May.
He also had a breakthrough performance at the Mt. SAC Relays in April, when he achieved a then-personal best mark of 49.27, while beating an elite field that included Olympic Trial participants like Jeshua Anderson, C.J. Allen and Michael Tinsley. (Tinsley eventually won a spot on the Olympic team that will be heading to Brazil this summer.)
“That race definitely blew open the door in terms of my confidence,” Rosser said.
Cal State L.A. assistant coach Orentheus Hutcherson also pointed to that race as the one that elevated Rosser to another level. He said he had been telling him he could compete with the best, but the win at Mt. SAC was proof of that.
“What he did at Mt. SAC showed what he can do against that type of competition. I think he had confidence before that, but actually running against those guys showed him that he could beat them,” Hutcherson said. “I think he has the best finish out of all of them.”
Hutcherson and Rosser both believe his best times are ahead of him. He was dominant during the 2016 outdoor season at Cal State L.A. and was really only challenged in the Mt. SAC race (that was run at Cerritos College). He won the California Collegiate Athletic Association championship on Jesse Owens Track at Cal State L.A. by more than three seconds with a time of 50.19 and he won the national championship in Florida by nearly a full second with his time of 49.04 that equaled Sam Turner’s school record set in 1978.
“I think he definitely has a high ceiling because he’s still improving and he’s still gaining experience,” Hutcherson said. “I’m confident he has even better times ahead of him.”
Rosser, like many track athletes, had reaching the Olympic Trials in his sights long before 2016.
He began hurdling at Summit at the age of 14, largely because he wanted to be like his older brother, Frederick Rosser, who is three years older and competed for Humboldt State. Frederick Rosser won CCAA championships in 2013 and 2014 and was second in the event in 2015.
Rosser said his older brother was a big inspiration for him early in his career.
“Growing up in high school, he was someone I looked up to. I saw all the success he was having and I wanted to do the same,” Rosser said.
Rosser had his first taste of big competition when he won the junior Pan American Games in 2013 with a time of 50.75.
He won a pair of junior college state championships at Chaffey College and then added to his championship resume at Cal State L.A. at 2016. He was named the NCAA Division II West Region Athlete of the Year by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association and he was also honored as the CCAA Track Athlete of the Year in a vote of conference coaches.
In June, he earned the Frank J. Candida Award as Cal State L.A.’s top male athlete.
“I’m really excited for Khallifah. One of his goals for the season was to make it to the Olympic Trials,” Cal State L.A. head coach Tina Fernandes said. “He’s been such a great teammate and such a pleasure to coach. I really hope this inspires our other athletes and lets them know they have the potential to do great things.”