By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Will Licon had an NCAAs for the ages, helping lead the University of Texas to a three-peat championship, and winning three individual events - the 100 and 200 breaststroke, and the 200 IM -- giving him 4 events in which he won NCAA titles individually in his career. The special senior year came after missing the Olympic team by a fraction of a second. But he’s nowhere near done swimming now, as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. First things first, a student was stabbed at UT Austin, are you and your friends doing all right?
Will: I had a class on that side of campus earlier in the day but I wasn’t over there at the time of the attack. No doubt some crazy things have happened and I feel bad for everyone who is suffering from this. One of my friends -- one of his friends was one of the people who was attacked so he’s worried about him. We’re all Longhorns, all in this together, and we’ll all be there for each other.
2. We are thinking about you all. Onto swimming and shifting gears, what a great performance by the swim team again -- three titles in a row, does it ever get old seeing the Tower lit up?
Will: It never does. It’s something where, to be honest, you’d be so happy to just see it happen one time for your team, so to have it happen every year for us after my freshman year is more than I could ever have dreamed of.
3. How amazing though to be able to rise up to that level again each year and have everyone get better?
Will: It’s pretty incredible. It shows how the last couple years this program has been on the rise. We can still produce. There’s are always rumors out there, people doubting Eddie or saying there’s no way our team can do it anymore, and that’s just garbage. The results speak for themselves. Having Eddie and (former associate head coach) Kris (Kubik) and (current assistant coach) Wyatt (Collins), and guys who buy into what needs to be done and a family -- you expect results like that.
4. What do those NCAA Championship trophies mean to you guys?
Will: I guess on paper it can show whatever you want it to, but the reality is that when you get to a meet like that, anything can happen. You have to 100 percent be on your A game to come out on top -- or even to get a second swim in an event -- it is that tough, and that intense. Others are bringing their best, so you have to be better than you’ve been all year.
5. At some point did you get tired with all those swims?
Will: You definitely have to take each race at a time. You can’t think about it as a whole. It’s nice to walk away with three races as an individual, but then you realize you have to put the hammer down in the relays and get that hand on the wall first. It’s not an easy enough meet to think about it as a whole, so you go race by race -- you live in that moment, do your best, and move on.
6. The NCAAs have just become so fast too - isn’t it a meet all its own?
Will: We were talking about how a time that would put you on the podium in some events four years ago wouldn’t have put you in the final. Hands down there is nothing like competing in relays at NCAAs. There’s nothing that gets me as fired up. There’s nothing comparable. I don’t know about the atmosphere at the international meets because I have heard that it’s incredible, but from my experience, these NCAA Championships are an incredible week; you’re with your best friends from the past four years representing a school you love so much, and all these other great schools are trying to take it away. So we worked to hold our ground, and we came out on top again.
7. The team on the relays -- you all even raised that bar -- was that a focus this year?
Will: Even when you’re not on those relays, you get so hyped up watching your teammates. You know those races aren’t over until a hand is on the wall. I was so proud of how many guys stepped up. Brett Ringgold kept throwing down swim after swim, and I could list names all day of guys who were so impressive for us.
8. You being a native Texan, growing up in El Paso and then going to Plano to swim before coming to Austin, did you arrive your first year as a freshman with the expectation of an NCAA team title?
Will: No doubt, and we were in a close meet that first year here for me, having NCAAs at your own pool -- winning it would have been a dream. So to see it slip away like that (Cal won) and finishing second fueled us for the next three years. And it definitely made our first (of three in a row) NCAA titles the next year that much sweeter. In the moment it hurt, but when you see how we rebounded and what we did to get better from the experience; it’s part of the journey that shaped us in the pool, and in life.
9. I think one of the coolest things is seeing all the alums, some of the world’s best recently and long ago, but just all the dozens, even hundreds, who come back and visit with you guys -- what’s that like?
Will: That’s one thing from my time here that I will never forget -- how important it is to all the alums to give back and keep supporting the program. That makes a huge impression on you of how important it is to do the right thing and do your best. We know the guys who have been in the program have our backs and are always looking out for us. It just makes the time here mean even more.
10. Do you remember coming to UT as a kid?
Will: I was a little kid when I first started coming to meets here. I was 9 years old and the first thing you notice is the record board (on the wall), all those names who were the greatest ever. You see that day in and day out, and it is just incredible.
11. And now you are on that wall, and you and your teammates have all but one school record -- how bizarre of a feeling is that?
Will: It means a lot. It means we did what the alums expected of themselves and expected of us -- to get better, to be our best. I don’t know if there is another pool in the country that is like ours -- the history behind our pool is so interesting to so many people. There were other pools certainly through the decades, but I think right now ours is something pretty awesome. So certainly to have your name up there is an honor, but it represents all the names who have ever been up there and been through this program. (Photo courtesy University of Texas Sports Information)
12. I can’t remember a meet there where I didn’t see Brendan Hansen or Neil Walker or Ian Crocker -- and so many others, is it something that frequent?
Will: Hands down, those guys and all the others are there for us. Brendan is a guy we will see every month; he’s been training his team at the pool the last few months so we’ve seen him on deck. So he stays involved with our team, talking to the guys, listening, offering strategies for races, and just letting us ask him things. And today actually Ian Crocker was there with his club and it’s always so cool to talk to them. These alums are some of the best ever in the sport, but they're also such good people.
13. I covered Ian and Brendan for a Splash cover story in their dorm room as freshmen, and that group had such unique personalities -- Aaron Peirsol of course included -- were such a close team, but such different guys, that’s how you, Jack Conger, Joe Schooling and Clark Smith are too, isn’t it?
Will: You can definitely look it that way. We are certainly different personalities but it really fits together. You can’t really compare us to that great group and how awesome they are, but we’ll take it!
14. That group and Townley Haas coming in -- what a leader he’ll be moving forward in following you guys -- have you talked about this run of domination at all and what it means?
Will: We haven’t had too much time to reflect on it yet. After the meet, we had a lot of school work to focus on. And in the pool, the mentality shifted right away to day-by-day preparations for World Championship Trials. So it hasn’t sunk in yet. On paper, it’s amazing, and we’re proud for what we did for our school and for each other and the program. But personally, I think we all moved on to what’s next because that needs our focus and attention. There will come a day eventually where it will sink in. But just being part of this team on a day-to-day basis is just incredible in itself.
15 Just missing the Olympic team happens to some of the world’s best -- and your Trials time would have medaled in Beijing and London, and won gold in every Olympics before that -- how did you turn that into a positive and have it drive you to another record performance this year?
Will: Well, of course it’s something not only me, but no other athlete, ever wants to go through, and I hope I don’t have to go through it again. But those are the moments in life that will define you; you decide what you want, and how you will turn it into something positive. You are put through tough times so you are ready for other challenges in life. I know overcoming that this year helped make me a better person, and a better swimmer. It’s pretty easy to lock up and dwell on that. But I had great coaches, family and teammates who weren’t about to let that happen. So I worked through it, and got back after it.
16. I eat out in Austin way too often -- it’s so good -- how is it for you?
Will: Before Plano I lived in El Paso which has great Mexican food. And coming here to Austin there is no better Tex-Mex food in the world -- but the barbecue is amazing. They’ve just got everything. I’m a big eater. So are many of my teammates -- you should see Clark (Smith), he really enjoys it (laughs) too and he’s a lot of fun to go eat with.
17. Did you play other sports growing up?
Will: I wish (laughs) I did! But I kind of found swimming and just really got into it at a young age and loved it. I am a huge golf fan though, and at one time I thought about playing football. I’ll probably get a little more into golf -- I’m living with a golfer starting next (school) year, so I’ll try to pick it up a bit more.
18. What are you majoring in at UT?
Will: I am a sports management major. When it’s said and done and I’m out in the world, I hope to be involved in large-scale event planning -- I think that would be a pretty good and exciting life, and I’d get to meet and work with a lot of interesting people.
19. You were studying for finals and working on a project Sunday, how do academics and swimming overlap, and what does swimming teach people for life?
Will: I think a big thing is that you get to know some of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet. For sure that’s a big thing that all swimmers get an opportunity for throughout their time in the sport. Another aspect it teaches is time management. And as we talked about, it definitely (laughs) lets me eat a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to eat -- so that’s probably the biggest perk because I love food a lot!
20. Your Mom so wonderfully articulated the challenges you faced post-Trials in an online news story I read and saved -- how cool is it to have parents like that who support you, but also understand?
Will: It’s such a big part of it. It lets you enjoy it more, and it makes it mean more to you. Without my parents, I would not have gotten to this point -- they made it possible. Every year as I get older I appreciate it more and think of ways to thank them and give back because I don’t ever want to let them think I’ve forgotten or don’t appreciate everything they do for me. They mean so much to me, and their encouragement has helped me achieve and pursue my dreams and goals.