Two-time runner up ‘Blazers gunning for state title
By Kelly Hodge
Photos courtesy Eric Roth
Daniel Boone has been on the heels of a state championship in cross country for awhile now, and it looks like the chase may soon be over.
Coach Len Jeffers’ boys team is ranked No. 1 in the state and already has won four meets this fall, including its own Trailblazer Invitational last weekend, where it just missed a perfect score. The state meet is set for Nov. 1 at the Steeplechase Course in Nashville.
The Trailblazers have been close the last couple of years, finishing runner-up to Brentwood in the Class AAA ranks. Asked how motivated they are to finally claim the prize, Jeffers chuckled.
“Very motivated,” he said. “The boys have been good with second place the last couple of years because they always knew we were the underdog and Brentwood was so strong. But this really feels like their year.
“We’ve tried not to talk about it and take things race by race, but in the back of their minds they know they’re the team to beat.”
There’s certainly no one in the area who can stay with Adam Barnard and the ‘Blazers.
Barnard is a six-time all-state runner in cross country and track — he’s the reigning 1,600 champion — and has a bright future. The senior won the Trailblazer Invitational for the second straight year, turning 15:55.8 on the muddy five-kilometer course in Gray, and then hopped on a plane for an official college visit to Arkansas.
He has already been to Colorado and Oklahoma State, and plans to visit Georgetown soon.
“Adam just has that combination of talent and work ethic,” said Jeffers. “He’s very goal oriented; he knows what he wants and how to go after it. He’s committed to training — how he eats, his water intake, rest — and really sets the right example.”
The rest of the team, says Jeffers, gladly falls into line.
“They understand what level Adam is at,” he said. “They’re not too far behind, but they’ve bought into the team concept and are not concerned about where they are on the team as much as how they can contribute.”
Rounding out the top five are senior James Garst, junior Josh Routh, sophomore Ben Varghese and junior Mitch Bronstetter.
Varghese may be the most inspirational story among the group. When he was four, he was involved in a lawnmower accident that almost severed one of his ankles.
“About 75 percent … it’s a miracle that he’s running,” said Jeffers. “Last year he was 11th or 12th on our team, but we saw the talent and challenged him. He’s a fighter.”
Four guys are battling for the other two spots in the lineup as the season winds down.
Junior Nick Roth and sophomore Connor Loyd have been running with the varsity team all fall, but a couple of JV kids finished ahead of them at the Trailblazer Invitational. And that means something to Jeffers.
“It doesn’t matter to me what grade they’re in, how many races they’ve run or who their parents are,” he said. “It’s about results.”
Boone finished with 17 points at the Invitational, two points shy of perfection, after placing all five of its scoring runners among the top six overall. The meet is in its 42nd year, making it the second-oldest event of its kind in the state.
Jeffers is keenly aware of the proud tradition of cross country and track and field at his alma mater. He’s just the third head coach in the school’s history, following in the footsteps of Karl Winkle and George Moody.
Jeffers spent 16 years coaching at Columbia Central in Middle Tennessee before the job opened in 2006. He was glad to come home.
“When they contacted me and told me coach Moody had announced his retirement, I put in my application immediately,” he said. “I knew I had to do it or it might be another 20 years.”
Now he’s hoping to put a state championship on his resume. But first things first.
The Big Seven Conference meet is set for Thursday, then the regionals at Boone on Oct. 23. The following weekend the ‘Blazers will be in Nashville with title hopes.
All indicators point to a breakthrough for the program.
Brentwood, which was ranked third nationally at the end of last season, graduated four of its top five runners. The teams have seen each other twice at meets this fall.
“We beat them both times,” said Jeffers. “It makes us feel good about where we are.”
Where the team will be Saturday is at Beef O’Brady’s, 2913 Boones Creek Road, hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser from 7:30-9:30 a.m. Tickets are $5.