By Gus Morris

While many considered New Mexico’s Josh Kerr the favorite to win the men’s 1,500 NCAA title on Friday, he wasn’t having it. He actually considered himself an underdog.

Even though he ran the sixth-fastest time in collegiate outdoor history this year — 3 minutes, 35.99 seconds at the Bryan Clay Invitational, which also ranks as the fastest time in college this year — Kerr still felt that anyone in the field could win the 1,500 NCAA title.

In a field that boasted the top five 1,500 runners in college this season, it’s easy to understand why Kerr might think that.

But he was considered the favorite for a reason.

Kerr won the 1,500 in 3:43.03 at the NCAA Track and Field Championships on Friday to win his first NCAA outdoor title. Justine Kiprotich of Michigan State finished second in 3:43.50, edging out Ole Miss’ Craig Engels in the final 20 meters. Engels took third in 3:43.54.

“Brilliant,” said Kerr, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland. “I was able to compete with these guys and go when I wanted to go.”

As the final lap bell sounded, no runner had yet established a lead. But as the lap began, Kerr started to work his way to front of the pack and made it there with less than 300 meters to go.

The last lap went how many had anticipated it would: with Kerr and Engels battling for the lead. After all, the two hold the top two times in the 1,500 this season.

But while the two favorites dueled for the lead, Kiprotich made his own move and found himself in third place coming down the final 100 meters.

He said he had actually been “kind of scared” of his position as the final lap started when he was on the inside of the track. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take the outside and make a move. Then Oregon’s Blake Haney tripped up and a path opened. Kiprotich took it and surged toward the front of the pack, which put Kiprotich in prime position to make a play for a podium spot. Except it wasn’t the one he expected.

“I was almost settling for third,” he said. “But I felt kind of good, so I thought I might as well give it another gear and see what happens.”

In the final 100 meters, Kerr and Engels surged ahead, while Kiprotich followed not far behind. Kerr inevitably pulled well into the lead, and Engels began to fade.

“I wish I just would’ve taken it with 200 to go,” Engels said. “Maybe get into his head a little bit, but he’s strong. I was trying to catch him the last 100, but I didn’t have it.”

As Kerr crossed the line, Kiprotich made one last move and jumped ahead of Engels as he crossed the line. In his first appearance in an NCAA championship meet, Kiprotich, a sophomore, recorded a second-place finish.

“I’m excited high,” he said.