A county prolific at producing long-distance runners now has a budding new star.
Just in time, too, because its current star, Centennial's Pat Rodrigues, graduates this spring after a four-year reign of unparalleled success.
The new star is Glenelg's Gerard Hogan, a 16-year-old junior who won both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs in the Class 2A/1A state meet Wednesday.
Hogan no doubt owes a slice of gratitude to Rodrigues.
"It didn't hurt him to have had to race against Rodriguesall year," Glenelg coach Roger Volrath said.
But Hogan's realhero is former Glenelg star and two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association 10,000-meter champion John Scherer.
After his state championship win, Hogan sported a T-shirt autographed by Scherer that said: "Run fast Gerard, John Scherer."
"He's my idol," Hogansaid.
And run fast Gerard did, Wednesday at the 5th Regiment Armory, site of the state Class 2A/1A championships.
The road to the top hasn't been easy for Hogan, who was born in London and spent six years of his childhood in Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Although he started high school with rave reviews as a runner -- "They saidI'd be the next Omar Jones" (a former Glenelg running star) -- Hogansaid he met some tough obstacles almost immediately. Someone kicked him in the shin and broke his leg the day of the regional meet his freshman year.
His sophomore year was ruined by a bad case of nerves. He developed the unproductive habit of throwing up either just before a race began or during the first lap.
"I was always scared and intimidated and just lacked confidence," the 135-pound Hogansaid.
But things changed last summer.
"I changed my diet and became a vegetarian, and I developed a new attitude that I was just going to enjoy running," Hogan said.
Bingo! What a reformation. Hogan finished second in the state 2A cross county championships this year. He finished third in the 1,600 indoor county championship and second in the 3200. In regionals, in a different classificationthan Rodrigues, Hogan won both events.
"Gerard trained extremely hard last summer, and now he's on pace for a super high school career," Coach Volrath said.
But is Hogan confident now?
He should be in more ways than just athletics. He has a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. He's part of Glenelg's "It's Academic" team thatappeared on television two weeks ago and won its match.
"We had lost on TV the year before," Hogan said.
He's also won a summer research fellowship from the National Institutes of Health to study cancer.
But his reaction to his two wins in the state meet Wednesday still shows a crack in his confidence level. Some of his teammates might have been prone to swagger under such circumstances, but not Hogan.
"I'm running better, but I'm still not there," Hogan said with a nervous smile.
It's true that Rodrigues ran in a different state classification, so Hogan didn't have to do the impossible towin. But the kid he beat in both the 1,600 and 3,200, Mike Mamo of Milford Mill, was awfully good. And in the 3,200 Hogan wiped out an intimidating 30-meter lead in the final two laps.
In the first race, the 1,600, Mamo took off like a scared rabbit, clocking a 64-second first quarter.
Hogan, after overcoming a bout of jitters at the starting line in which he said he started to hyperventilate, kept his poise during the race and waited for Mamo to tighten up. The skinny, long-striding sophomore did just that and faded to fifth.
"I was worried because he had beaten me twice earlier this year," Hogan said. "But his quarter-mile time proved not to be serious."
So when Mamo again took off with a fast pace in the 3,200, Hoganlet him get perhaps a bit too far away.
"He didn't think the kid would run that hard," Glenelg Coach Steve Ruckert said. "He fell five or six seconds behind, and you usually don't make that up."
Mamo ran a 4:58 first 1,600 meters and Hogan ran a 5:03. But Hogan ran well within himself, his short, controlled stride and steady arm-and-shoulder movement signaling that he was saving plenty for a finishing push.
"I started to worry at 1,600 meters that he wasn't coming back," Hogan said. "The plan was to stay with him for 2,400 meters and then kick the last 800 meters."
Volrath was also worried.
"In the second lap Gerard let the gap get too big, but I've become confident in the way he's run recently. He's matured in the wayhe runs."
The prerace plan was thrown a curve when an official accidentally flipped the lap marker the wrong way and the runners wound up doing an extra 200 meters.
But the mistake seemed to work in Hogan's favor.
Mamo seemingly would have won had the race ended at 3,200 meters. Mamo told officials as he crossed the finish line after 3,200 meters that the race should be over, but they ordered him to go another lap.
It was on that extra lap that Hogan closed a large gap quickly, moving past Mamo on the backstretch and finishing strong.
Hogan knew during the race that a mistake had been made and tried to tell the judges. "There should have been only four laps to go, but they were telling us there were five," Hogansaid. "When the two-lap marker finally came up, I just went and gaveall I could give. It's hard to say what would have happened without the extra lap."
Ruckert thinks the result would have remained the same.
"Gerard ran smart and used that extra lap," Ruckert said, "but I think the result would have been the same either way, because Gerard had a closing kick and the other guy didn't."