When people think of the University of Connecticut, they think of our winning basketball programs. They think of prominent athletes like Sue Bird, Ray Allen, Diana Taurasi and all the others who have come through the historic programs. However, people often don’t know about the prominent athletes from other sports that have competed for and are currently at UConn. Insert Aaron Hackett.
Hackett is a member of the track and field team at UConn. He competes in the 200-meter and 400-meter sprints for the Huskies and is one of the vocal leaders of a team that took home the 2021 Big East Championship last spring.
His journey to Storrs starts in the DMV, as Hackett hails from Largo, Maryland. He grew up in the upper Marlboro area that breeds athletes, such as NFL defensive end Chase Young and Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz. Growing up in sports was a crucial part of Hackett’s life. Competing in a variety of sports would fuel his competitive nature.
He attended Largo High School, where he quickly made a name for himself between the lines on the football field and on the track. Hackett credits his high school coach Haywood Vaughn, who he says pushed him to be the best he could be.
“He saw it in me when I was in 8th grade. I went to work out at the school and I met him. It didn’t click that I was good until my sophomore year going into my junior year. He helped me realize my potential that I really had it in me,” said Hackett.
Hackett eventually had to choose between the football field or the track. He made the decision to go with track and field, choosing to hang up his pads. He credits this choice to the rise of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
“I couldn’t live with CTE. Football was getting dangerous. They were trying to make rules to get away from the danger of the sport but people still wanted the viciousness of the sport. I could’ve played division one football but at the end of the day I’m happy with the decision I made,” said Hackett.
Hackett’s accolades justify his decision. In his senior year of high school, he took home four individual events to lead his team to the 1A state title. Hackett competed in the 100-meter dash, the 300-meter hurdles, the 200-meter dash and the 110-meter hurdles. He was the first male athlete to win four individual running events in Maryland.
Hackett had offers from big programs around the country, specifically in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Big Ten. But regardless of the school status, he chose to attend UConn, where he felt that he was a priority.
“Those places were notorious for bringing in recruits. I didn’t want to be another face that you just see and next year they bring in another star and forget you. UConn was a place that was trying to build something and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Hackett.
He came into college eager to compete. At the time UConn was still a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) competing against big schools down south. The eyes and the competition was there, but unfortunately for Hackett it was not meant to be.
“My freshman year I tore both my hamstrings. I wasn’t able to compete against AAC competition and my sophomore year was hindered by COVID,” said Hackett.
The pandemic put a huge wrench in everyone’s plans, especially college athletes. Some sports only played partial seasons while others didn’t have a season at all. For the UConn track and field program, it saw many of its athletes transfer to new schools. But Hackett decided to stay saying he saw no reason to leave his new home.
“A lot of people left due to personal matters. The Black Lives Matter protest was happening. There were comments about the coaching staff. I felt like my coach understood me personally even though we didn’t see eye to eye. But now I have a new coach that’s great so it worked out for me,” said Hackett.
And with that came a conference switch, new faces and a Big East Championship.
“It felt great. For me it was really great because I was able to compete for the full year. I was trying to focus on my mental health, getting myself in the full swing of things and being back in the Big East a lot of these schools thought they had the athletes to win. But we showed out and dominated and won the competition by more than a 100 points,” said Hackett.
Winning a conference championship is something that only so many individuals can say they have done. Yet with a new year comes new challenges, and Hackett has some specific goals in mind for the upcoming season.
“I want to finish the season healthy and indoors. I at least want to get one medal. Outdoor I’m trying to place for regionals and nationals. But I’m definitely trying to run some personal records, but I need to make the conference,” said Hackett.
Hackett has some goals off the track as well. Since high school, he has organized a food drive back in his hometown of Largo. This year he has taken his experience to Connecticut, creating a food drive that will help those in need in the Hartford and Willimantic area.
“Back at home in Largo I have a food drive I’ve been doing since my senior year. I don’t really like to post it on social media because I feel it loses the value of what it’s supposed to be. That you’re looking for validation, but since it’s my senior year and people know my name I figured why not try to do it and help the communities here like I do at home,” said Hackett.
With his senior season approaching fast, he only has so much time to make an impact not only on the track but in the community as well. He’s one of many athletes where this could be their last year competing but he wants everyone to know that UConn track and field has something to prove this season and for years to come.
“You referred to me as a Largo legend but everyone on the track and field team is a legend where they come from. I feel like we’re looked down upon as a team. But not many people understand how dominant we are. Our first year back in the Big East and we swept it. And we plan to do the same this year,” said Hackett.