Before his sophomore season, Durant's John Mitchell had never been a runner. In fact, he had never even thought about it.
But when a friend decided to join the school's cross country squad, Mitchell, whose primary focus was basketball, figured he would give it a shot.
Then something funny happened.
"I ended up being pretty decent," Mitchell said.
That, you might say, is an understatement.
Mitchell finished fifth in his first meet, qualified for state that season and returned to state in 2007, where he placed 16th. His already impressive resume got a serious boost last spring when, in his first season with the track and field squad, he won gold in the 1,600.
"He's as talented a runner as I've had," Durant coach Mike Gursky said.
Now a senior, Mitchell is on track to earn a college scholarship, possibly from an elite program, Gursky said. Florida and Florida State, both of which have strong national reputations, are among the schools that have shown the most interest.
The truth is, Mitchell's track and field accolades alone might be all he needs to move to the next level. But in his view, excelling in cross country as well "is the best way to get a scholarship."
"I'm doing it to boost my presence," he said."
And to win.
Mitchell finished the 2007 Class 4A state meet in 16 minutes, 23 seconds. He figures a time of 15:30 will be good enough to win this fall (15:43 won it a year ago). Coincidentally, Gursky thinks that exact time is what will be needed to impress the major college programs.
The question is, can Mitchell go that low?
"With the help from this year's training, I think that's going to be a big boost," Mitchell said. "I can get some of those top times."
He is off to a good start. In a meet Tuesday, Mitchell clocked a time of 17:10, which puts him about a minute ahead of where he was 12 months ago. Mitchell credits a summer training regimen that focused on what he called "hard miles."
Because Mitchell worked a summer job five days a week, his time was limited. So instead of running more miles, he ran shorter distances at a faster pace.
"I had to push myself," Mitchell said.
The goal now is to keep pushing. With the state meet two months away, a focused Mitchell, who has decided against playing basketball this season, is energized by the thoughts of adding a second gold medal to his collection. And his coach plans on doing everything in his power to make it a reality.
"He is committed to making something happen," Gursky said. "I'm pretty comfortable we can get him there."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.