FAIRFIELD - For Sacred Heart cross country and track coach Christian Morrison, it was like getting a Christmas present in the spring.

Connor Rog, a former Fairfield Prep runner who had spent the last four years at the University of Virginia, had called and said that he was interested in coming to SHU to study for a Master’s degree and, oh … that he had a full year of athletic eligibility left.

“It was a nice, little surprise,” Morrison said. “I was happy to have him come on board.”

In 2011, Rog won the State Open cross country meet, leading the Jesuits to the state title and then headed to Virginia, where he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year. But Rog then lost the entire 2013 cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons and the 2015 Indoor season to injury.

“I certainly remember him running for Fairfield Prep, he was one of the better high school runners to come out of the state over the years,” Morrison said. “He had some success at Virginia but he was injured a lot. He was frustrated with being injured, so basically, he said that he wasn’t going to run anymore.

“But runners, like any other athlete in any other sport, you step away for a while and you get the itch again after a while and I think that’s what happened to him. He started missing running and started running again in the spring and decided that he wanted to give it a try again.”

And he did.

“I saw that coach Morrison had coached some really, solid runners to Northeast Conference Championships and he’s had a lot of success,” Rog said. “So, I called him and we decided that this could work.”

Right from the start of the cross-country season last fall, Rog led the field, literally, as Sacred Heart raced out of the blocks. Five times, Rog was named the Northeast Conference men’s cross-country Runner of the Week. He won the Father Bede Invitational, besting 57 other runners over the 5,000-meter course in 16:03, his first cross country win. He placed second overall in the UMass Minuteman Invitational, finishing the 6,000-meter course in 19:03 - the fastest time ever by a Pioneer runner at the UMass race.

He captured first place at the Fairfield Invitational, posting a time of 25:55.52 over the 8,000-meter course, breaking the course record (26:27.99) by over 30 seconds. Rog took sixth (out of 219 runners) in the New England Championships in Boston, posting a time of 24:52 over the 8,000-meter course, the best time ever run by a Pioneer runner on that course, earning him All-New England honors.

“I had been injured off and on and trying to get back into shape last summer,” Rog said. “I was running every day and I felt pretty good and coach (Morrison) was sending me some workouts and I was doing pretty well at them … I hadn’t raced in so long but my very first cross-country race, I won pretty easily and I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re back,‘ and from there on, cross-country was really, really fun, to excel like that.”

At the Princeton Invitational, Rog was 19th out of 226 runners with a time of 24:42 over 8,000-meters and at the Northeast Region championships, Rog was 33rd out of 245 runners with a time of 31:31.8 over 10,000-meters, the second fastest time in SHU history.

He won the NEC individual championship with a time of 26:48.4 over the 8,000-meter course as the Pioneers team finished second overall and at the IC4A championships in New York City, Rog’s third place finish helped Sacred Heart to a sixth place (out of 19 teams) finish, the highest IC4A finish ever for the Pioneers.

Wow.

“I always felt confident that I was going to run fast,” Rog said, who had been sidelined by a hip injury and a stress fracture in leg while at UVa. “The intensity (at Sacred Heart) was not nearly as high, it was a lot lower and I liked that a lot.”

In his first indoor meet, Rog shattered the New England 5,000-meter record (15:03.24) with a time of 14:43.34, just missing the I4CA mark of 14:42.5, he won the 3,000-meters at the Yale Invitational (8:27.48), earning him NEC Indoor Track Runner of the Week honors. He won the 3,000-meters (8:22.00) at the Wagner Invitational, an All-New England qualifying time, he won the 5,000-meters at the Terrier Invitational in Boston (14:21.28), breaking the SHU school record

He won the 5,000-meters at the NEC Indoor championships (14:40.48) as the Pioneers finished second as a team.

“He’s got good range,” Morrison said. “We put him in a 10,000 … he’d never run one before and he broke our school record in that race. It’s not one of our stronger records, mind you, but still … we’ve had some pretty good runners. It’s pretty impressive.”

And that’s not all …

Outdoors, Rog set a new 10,000-meter SHU record, finishing in 30:15.45 at the San Francisco State Distance Carnival on March 31. The time is also an IC4A qualifying performance by more than a minute, while also breaking the New England record by more than two minutes. He set a new outdoor school record in the 5,00-meters (14:21.95) and he finished third in the NEC Outdoor championships in the 5,000-meters in 14:56.62.

“He came in and embraced the opportunity to run at Sacred Heart. He had a good experience running, I think he would tell you that,” Morrison said. “One of my goals for him was just to keep him healthy all year. He told me that this was the first time he’d been healthy for the entire season since high school, so because of that, he was able to run a lot of good races and break some records.”

And provide some vital leadership.

“I think the younger guys really benefitted from having him around. He wasn’t a captain but he was like another captain,” Morrison said. “In our sport, you have to be there every day and put in the work. You have to get out there and do your training and Connor was very consistent about that, his approach and the younger guys saw that.”

Rog is currently working in the FTMA - Film & Television Masters’ program - at Sacred Heart

“I was a classic kid, senior year and I had no idea with what I wanted to do in media studies,” he said. “I had been into film making and editing and been fascinated by cameras. I grew up watching a lot of movies and I always dreamed of being in that kind of business but didn’t know how to get into it.

“Eventually I found you that you can pursue more education in film making, so I did some research and saw that Sacred Heart had this new program and it looked pretty promising. A lot of the professors in these programs seemed really cool. They were young and inspiring. What sold me was that it was close to home and I was going to a place that was new, but not so new.”

Back on familiar ground.

celsberry@ctpost.com