By Nick Nollenberger
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -- Arizona senior Kevin Steel always had dreams of swimming stardom. But coming out of high school he was lightly recruited and actually had to email then Arizona head swim Coach Frank Busch to give him a shot.
Steel tried to sell the coach on his speed. Speed that had allowed the backstroker turned breaststroker to drop 12 seconds off his event in one-year.
"I tried to make the sales pitch 'I dropped a lot of time in one year, are you interested'," said Steel. "Luckily Arizona was interested. I believe Frank was a big believer in developing talent. I was a bit of a gamble for him and I'd like to believe that paid out pretty well."
Still through his first three years at Arizona he was a virtual unknown. That all changed this spring.
Steel put up an impressive performance at the NCAA Championships finishing 2nd to teammate Kevin Cordes in the 100-yard Breaststroke.
Then he opened major eyes when the Moorestown, N.J. product burst on the swimming scene in June at the U.S. Swimming Championship by breaking the U.S. Open 50-meter breaststroke record with a time of 27.26. The previous mark at 50-meters was 27.34.
Steel's time, the third-fastest in the world this year, won him the event and qualified him for the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. It cemented him as a serious global threat.
For many who were not familiar with Steel, his performance may have come as a shock. But head coach Eric Hansen wasn't surprised at all.
"Kevin's a great athlete, that's his strength,"said Hansen. "We knew he would be dangerous in the 50. His time of anonymity is gone now."
Cordes is the Arizona Wildcat swimmer that fans are most accustomed to seeing on the winner's podium. But at that World Championship Trials event he was runner up to teammate Steel.
Cordes and Steel may be both teammates and opponents in the pool, but their respect for one another goes beyond the water. Cordes says the difference between him and Steel is that Steel is "pure power" while Cordes is more of a glider.
"I'm naturally a strong guy so when I'm in the weight room I like to work really hard," said Steel.
Clearly his strength has been noticed by the swimming world after his performance at World Champ Trials.
In terms of Barcelona, Steel says there's no improvising on how to get to the Final.
"I have to swim a perfect race," said Steel. "Right now I'm just focusing on the little details, cleaning up all the little things to put the best race together that I can and that's all I can really hope for."
If Steel can perform in Barcelona like he did at the U.S. Championships he will be one step closer to the swimming stardom he dreamed of as a young kid.
Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.
David Kelly contributed to this story.