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Senior quintet does heavy lifting for Warriors track

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Thu. May 2, 2013 | Joey Knight | Email

Senior quintet does heavy lifting for Warriors track

Seedings indicate the Steinbrenner boys 4x800-meter relay team has a reasonable chance of finishing first at Friday's Class 3A state meet.

Checking in first? That's a foregone certainty.

Punctuality is a concept the Warriors have come to hold as dearly as a baton. When some stragglers showed up at an 8 a.m. Saturday workout earlier this year, veteran coach Bobby Ennis dismissed the entire group and told it to return at 5.

"If he says practice starts at 5:30 or 6, you've got to be here 15 minutes early," Warriors senior Tyler Lima said.

To be sure, Ennis' disciplinary measures are steeped in a prior generation, right there alongside the seven state cross country titles he won at Leto. Roughly two decades later, the methods are spawning medals again.

Steinbrenner, the fairly new school, is flourishing by going old-school. Almost exclusively on the strength of their quintet of senior distance runners, the Warriors have won 3A district and region team titles the last two weeks.

Friday, those seniors -- Tanner Biles, Chris Cerreta, Lima and fraternal twin Zach, and Matt Magee -- hope to launch some history.

They've already launched a tradition. "Boss Cross," by which Steinbrenner's distance-running program is known, is a play off George Steinbrenner's nickname and the Warriors' autumn sport.

"We got rid of all of the (uncommitted runners), we went with these guys, and they built it," Ennis said before a recent training run in Northdale. "The kids we've got under them fully understand what they've created. So the future looks bright."

Not one frill will precede the future. The avenue to Jacksonville, site of this weekend's 3A and 4A meets, has featured nary a short cut.  
Weeklong running camps in the mountains? Clinics on rubberized surfaces? Nah, the Warriors opt for the Northdale neighborhoods and perpetual companionship of bay area humidity, logging more than 500 miles each summer.

All five can bench press at least 190 pounds, though four weigh 140 or less. All are on Steinbrenner's honor roll. None are on Twitter.

"Everything's so feel-good and everybody's getting all their trophies for coming in last place and everything. But it doesn't really work like that around here," Cerreta said.

"Not many kids can do it. Not just because you have to run 50 miles a week, but because it's strict. You have to be on time and you have to cancel activities that you might want to do because you're in training."

The paint had barely dried on Steinbrenner's walls when the approach began paying off. Ennis and Bobby McConnell, a member of the 1995 Leto 4x800 team that set a national record, assumed control of the boys program in 2010, a year after the school opened.

That fall, the Warriors finished second as a team at the 2A state cross country meet. The Limas and Magee all finished in the top 80, with Cerreta 123rd. Biles would arrive from Freedom prior to the start of his junior year.

"We had the guys out here that wanted to work and wanted to train hard," Zach Lima said. "So that's when we wanted to become something and make a name for ourselves."

The names are Gentleman, Scholar and Athlete -- a three-tiered code of conduct. Mental strength is a must, physical strength a prerequisite. All five remain enrolled in Ennis' weight-training class, where they're given daily personalized regimens on index cards.

Saturday, they seek the program's third second consecutive state medal in the 4x800 after placing fourth last season. Tyler Lima will seek a second medal in the 3,200. Magee could make noise in the 800 and 1,600. Cerreta's a dark horse contender in the two-mile.

"Our strength is our strength," Zach Lima said. "We're the strongest team out there; I don't think any other team does what we do every day, or has the commitment or toughness to do what we do every day. That's how we look at it."

In unison, all five seem to suggest they won't be denied.

They definitely won't be late.

Photo provided by Zach Lima
Pictured (L to R): Tanner Biles, Zach Lima, Matt Magee, Tyler Lima, Chris Cerreta

FHSAA state track and field championships
Where: University of North Florida, Jacksonville
When: Friday (Class 3A) and Saturday (4A)
Admission: $9 per meet
Parking: $8
Schedule: 1 p.m. -- Field events and 4x800 relay; 4 p.m. -- Running event preliminaries; 6:30 p.m. -- Running event finals

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