TAMPA — They reside on the west side of the Al Lopez Sports Complex. In a sense, they're pennants in a petrified state, waist-high marble headstones commemorating Jesuit High's five state cross country titles.
The newest one just turned 8. In Tiger terms, that might constitute a drought.
Roughly four dozen kids are laboring to erect another one.
"We've got a lot of young talent coming up," said coach Greg Maurin, who reported 49 in his program — the most of his seven-season tenure — at one point in late August. "And we've got lots of kids coming out so we're really not sure of what all we have."
Or are they? Nestled among those 49 are five of the team's top seven finishers at last season's Class 2A state meet, where Jesuit finished third. Senior Hunter Revord, 19th at the state meet, represents the only significant loss, having opted for lacrosse.
"I think this year we definitely will be really competitive for a state (title)," said No. 1 runner Tim O'Loughlin, third at state in 2012. "Without Hunter, we still have the same team as last year. … In fact, we're better than last year."
Once September segues into October, Maurin's top five all could be eclipsing 17 minutes for 5 kilometers. Depending on how well the youngsters progress, even more could join that sub-17 quintet.
Barring injury, such times would propel Jesuit into a state title conversation, though Jacksonville Bishop Kenny and Immokalee — teams that finished ahead of Jesuit last season — remain strong.
Setting the pace, clearly, is O'Loughlin, a 5-foot-7, 140-pound senior equipped with a tenacious race mentality and military pedigree. The son of a retired Coast Guard officer and grandson of a Vietnam veteran, he aspires to enroll in a service academy.
His time at last fall's state meet (16:06) was a personal best.
"On game day especially, he's a fierce competitor," Maurin said. "We can always count on him to commit. No matter how bad he's hurt, he's always going to give it all he's got. … He never takes an easy day when it comes to racing. He always delivers."
On his heels are a handful of runners who have relied more on sweat equity than a natural stride to reach their current level.
Case in point: senior Phillip "Hurricane" Robbins, who failed to break 27 minutes in his first race as a freshman but ran a 16:59 at the 2012 state meet. He's being pushed daily by classmate Danny Alvarez and junior Tyler Pratt, both top-75 state placers last year.
"Last year our goal was to finish in the top five, and this year I certainly want to repeat that or do better," Maurin said. "Definitely finish in the top five if not get the title. … It's early yet, but we're working on it."