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  1. Sports

Seffner Christian's cross country program looks at the big picture

SEFFNER — Noah Perkins isn't sure of the exact moment it happened.

There was no pop, no knifing pain. It wasn't a flash of lightning, rather a slow-moving storm that rolled in and gathered strength.

"It just kept getting worse and worse," Perkins said.

For cross country runners, the feet are the last thing they want injured. Perkins was eventually diagnosed with bursitis in his right foot, wiping out the end of his sophomore season at Seffner Christian last year.

"It was tough," he said.

The pain started building midway through the season schedule and increased. He finished fifth in districts but, with a throbbing foot, had a disappointing 19-minutes-plus run at regionals. The Crusaders qualified for state as a team but Perkins was unable to compete.

"It was very difficult to watch my teammates run without me," he said. "Really it made me kind of jealous. I just love running so much."

Perkins took about a month off from running and the bursitis subsided. Fitted with a special pad to ease wear and tear this year, Perkins has been on a tear. He set a personal record of 16:38 on a muddy track in North Port and ran a 16:52 last week at the Seffner Christian Invitational.

But coach Andy Holmes has been careful with his star runner, even backing off events. His plan is for Perkins to run in just five meets prior to districts.

"He has the experience, so really he doesn't need to put the extra strain on his body," Holmes said. "Noah is one of the best runners in the county."

Perkins will run this weekend in the meet, one of the most prestigious in the state, but said the lighter workload is a double-edged sword.

"The competitive side of me wants to get out there and race and compete," Perkins said. "But at the same time, I think it will work out in the long run."

Perkins is the leader of the pack for an awfully young Crusaders team. SCA has three seventh-graders in its top six, including Jake Turner and Paul McKenzie at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Paul's twin brother, John, is No. 6.

Another thing working against the Crusaders, a team that has reached state three years running and four of the last five, has been sheer numbers.

"We just didn't have the turnout like we've had in past years," Holmes said. "Usually we get anywhere from 20 to 25 runners out, but for whatever reason we had eight this season."

What the Crusaders lack in numbers they make up for in bloodlines. Twins Lydia and Abigail Schosek run for the girls team, and there are three brother/sister combinations between the two SCA squads.

"It's pretty unusual, to say the least," Holmes said.

The girls team made the school's lone state appearance in 2011 but Holmes will have his hands full getting there this season. Transfers and graduation depleted the Crusaders and Holmes said his goals have been lowered.

"I shoot them straight," he said. "I'd like to be able to get them to regionals. That's the goal. But it's going to be tough because right now we don't have the level of runners up front we've had in the past. But they are improving."

Perkins, on the other hand, has bigger plans. Foot troubles in the rearview mirror, the junior is looking forward to proving he's state-series worthy.

"Obviously I know I can do much, much better at regionals," he said. "My plan is to avoid getting injured the rest of the way out and show what I can do at states."