O'FALLON — When O'Fallon High School senior Alex Riba left late last week on his official NCAA visit to Texas A&M University, his college choice was still up in the air.
When Riba returned from College Station, Texas, on Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much doubt. One of the top high school distance runners in the midwest, Riba had decided he was going to be an Aggie.
Wearing a maroon Texas A&M T-shirt and a great big smile, Riba said on Monday that he has given a verbal commitment to attend the Southeastern Conference school beginning in the 2013-14 season.
"It came down to Texas A&M and Alabama,'' Riba said. "When I got home on Sunday, I sat down with my parents and listed the pros and cons of both schools. I just decided A&M was the place for me.
"Academics was a big part of it. I'm going to major in business and they have the second-ranked business school in the nation. Athletics-wise, we're talking about a track and field program which has won three out of the last four NCAA (outdoor) national championships. Combination-wise, it won't get any better for me.''
Riba simply has been one of the top distance runners in the state the past three years.
In cross country, Riba has been a major reason the O'Fallon harriers have placed second in the Class 3A state meet during the past two years at beautiful Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Riba placed second in the state finals in 2011, covering the three-mile course in 14 minutes, 27 seconds. This past season, Riba placed fourth in 14:13. Teammate Patrick Perrier was third.
Riba also won the Southwestern Conference championship and Class 3A regional title.
Following his senior season, Riba won the Nike Regional Championship in Terre Haute, Ind.
The two-time News-Democrat Runner of the Year in cross country, Riba won the 1,600 meter SWC and IHSA Sectional titles last spring.
Riba will have the opportunity to learn from two of top coaches in the nation. Legendary track coach Pat Henry has guided the Aggies to national titles in 2009-2011. Texas A&M placed third in the 2012 national finals.
In cross country, former Illinois assistant Wendel McRaven has a perennial top-25 ranked program with the Aggies.
"I met the coaches and they were both great. Coach Henry is a very down-to-earth guy and very low key,'' Riba said. "It was a tough decision in one way, but in a way in a way, it wasn't. I just feel like I'll be happy here.''
Riba won't be the only metro-east area athlete at Texas A&M. Former Central High School standout Jena Hemann is a member of the Aggies women's track and field program, where she competes in the heptathlon and high jump.
"I met Jena and she came over and talked to me for a little while. The whole visit was great. There was a track meet that I got to watch and I got a chance to do some other things down there,'' Riba said.
"My official visits were to Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama and Auburn. It (the recruiting process) was fun because they treat you well on your visits. But it's good to have it done with.''
Riba is currently training for his senior track and field season where he will be one of the state's best thinclads competing in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter events.
As for his freshman season, Riba said he knows it will be a learning experience.
"Cross country, I'll probably be near the bottom of the team and in track and field, it doesn't matter what I'll run, probably a little bit in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters,'' Riba said. "Wherever I'm needed.''
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org