Goss: University of St. Francis men’s cross country cupboard stays stocked
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org September 2, 2013 9:54PM
University of St. Francis men's cross country runner Joey Santillo (101). | Supplied photo
Updated: October 4, 2013 6:15AM
Defending NAIA national champion University of St. Francis lists 29 runners on its men’s cross country roster.
That eight are Plainfield South graduates and four are from Minooka is no accident.
“The job that coach (Jason) Crowe does at Plainfield South and coach (Kevin) Gummerson does at Minooka, we get their kids and it makes our job a lot easier,” second-year Saints coach Jeff Barker said. “But it isn’t only them. That whole conference (Southwest Prairie) is that way.”
Barker assistant Jeff Chiapello is a former outstanding runner at Minooka, and recruiting coordinator Steve Lawrence is the former boys track coach at Plainfield Central.
Winning the national championship with runners from nearby high schools makes it even more special.
“We don’t bring in foreign kids,” Barker said.
“You don’t need to buy a championship,” said a smiling junior nursing major Kevin Hardin (Plainfield South), who’s running 90 miles a week hoping to earn the Saints’ top seven. “I didn’t run at nationals last year, that’s my goal.”
He may get there, but about a dozen teammates also are vying for the coveted spots. You have to believe St. Francis, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, will be just as good or better.
Among others pursuing the top seven are senior Trevor Howard (Wilmington); junior Danny Bahret (Minooka), an Academic All-American recovering from injury and just getting back, and freshman Joey Santillo (Minooka).
Howard was a tight end in football and a basketball and track standout at Wilmington. He was eighth man at St. Francis in 2010 and ’11 and redshirted last year, sights set on the top seven this season.
Santillo, who finished 13th in the state as a senior and is majoring in art and education, feels he will continue to improve at St. Francis.
“I don’t feel like I’ve peaked at all yet,” he said. “I know when (Phil) Rizzo first got here, he couldn’t break five minutes in the mile. Then he wound up an All-American.”
Rizzo was the Saints’ No. 1 runner in 2012, his senior season.
Santillo is up to 75 workout miles a week. But it is not all numbers.
“I always say there is not one magic number,” Barker said. “I know with Matt Peacock (a returning top-seven runner), he goes 65 to 70 miles a week. He’ll be hurt if he runs more than that. Everybody has an individual guideline. The magic is in the man, not the miles.”
Magic is in keeping your body healthy as it approaches its peak performance level.
“Listen to your body and you stay healthy,” said senior Dylan Reyes, the Saints’ No. 4 runner at nationals last season and probable All-American had he been 100 percent. “When your body isn’t feeling it, you cut back.
“We can repeat (as nationals champs) because we know the value of hard work and know how to listen to our bodies.”
When the Saints recruit from programs such as Plainfield South and Minooka, they’re getting kids already strategically sound.
“When I started cross country in high school, I was awful,” Hardin said. “For me to be where I am, it shows hard work does a lot.
“My older brother ran cross country in high school. He kind of forced me into it. Once you get into it, running becomes a lifestyle. It makes me a more positive person. It’s discipline.”
“Little things like being selfless and caring about the program and its tradition, we feel we’re the best in the country at that,” Barker said. “As soon as the national title was won, the guys took the results and looked at who would be back where and they said, ‘We can win again.’ ”
The school and community appreciate it. A banner commemorating the 2012 championship adorns the Patrick J. Sullivan Recreation Center. A billboard on Interstate 80 trumpets the title.
As Barker mused, where else would you see that?