TAMPA — If Plant cross country coach Mike Boza wanted to, he could spend all day raving about the physical traits of Panthers junior Trenor Wilkins. But the truth is, Boza believes the standout's success has as much to do with what's inside.
Starting with Wilkins' heart.
"He's got such a great attitude," Boza said. "He's zero maintenance. He might be the most enthusiastic of all the elite runners I've had."
For the record, Boza has had several.
Now in his second season with the Panthers, Boza previously spent 12 years at Jesuit, where he led the Tigers to four Class 2A championships and coached several all-county performers. Wilkins, a three-year letter-winner, ranks among the most talented runners Boza has been around, and he might only be starting to reach his potential.
When Wilkins posted a time of 15 minutes, 54 seconds at the Red Mule Run on Aug. 30, he topped his personal best by 27 seconds. That effort followed a strong spring season in track, during which Wilkins placed fifth at the 3A state meet in the 3,200 (9:39.98).
"Those seasons really feed off each other," Boza said. "That's why he's starting out so fast."
This is something that didn't happen a year ago. As a ninth-grader, a stress fracture in Wilkins' left leg prematurely ended his cross country season after districts and lingered well into track season. Despite entering the 2007 season with little momentum, Wilkins performed well (he was 19th at state) and Boza figured he was on the right path.
Wilkins' performance this spring confirmed it.
"I think that's when it really stood out that he could be an elite runner," Boza said.
For Wilkins, who began running road races against adults — and typically won — in middle school and said cross country was "my thing right from the start," the showing at state did wonders for his ego.
"That was probably my biggest confidence boost," Wilkins said.
During the summer, Wilkins pushed himself harder than ever, running upward of 55 miles some weeks. On the heels of his Red Mule effort, he performed well at last weekend's University of Florida Mountain Dew Invitational, finishing the race, which is held at what is considered a difficult course, in 16:24.
By season's end, Wilkins hopes to be at or near 15:30.
Not coincidentally, that's the time that won the 2007 3A championship.
"I'm really pleased with where I'm at right now," Wilkins said.
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3458.