12/04/06 — 2006 News-Argus Boys CC Runner of the Year

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2006 News-Argus Boys CC Runner of the Year

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on December 4, 2006 1:46 PM

CALYPSO -- Not long ago, Justin Hicks wasn't even the best runner on his own team. He wasn't even close.

Now, he's the Carolina Conference's top cross country runner and among the best in the state. He's also the 2006 News-Argus Male Cross Country Runner of the Year.

Two years ago as a freshman, Hicks ran in his first meet for the North Duplin Rebels.

His time?

"It was a 30-something," he recalled.

Last year, he was the No. 5 runner on a team that advanced to state.

His time at Tanglewood in 2005 was 21 minutes, 52 seconds.

At the beginning of this season, Hicks still wasn't North Duplin's No. 1 runner. But he was getting close.

"He's a hard worker," North Duplin head coach James Foster said of Hicks. "Last year, he was our No. 5 runner, and he has worked so much harder than everyone else that he's pushed himself to No. 1. Halfway through this season, he started finishing in first place. He was determined to be at the front."

But getting to the front wasn't easy.

"Over the summer, I just ran a lot," Hicks said. "I ran six miles every day. There's a road where I ran to a gas station and ran back, and that was six miles."

Day after day, Hicks traversed the same path.

"It was kind of relaxing," he said. "I made sure I paced myself -- you don't want to wear yourself out and have to walk back along the side of the road. And the more I did it, the easier it got."

And when the summer was over and the season started, something strange happened.

"When I came back, everybody seemed a lot slower," Hicks smiled.

Hicks ran a personal best time of 18:45 at a meet at North Johnston in October. Later in the month, he finished first at the Carolina 1-A Conference Championships after running a 19:41 at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park -- one of the most challenging and unforgiving courses in the state.

"Just to finish first feels great," he said. "It's nice to lead the pack."

Hicks took sixth at regionals and finished 40th at the state meet.

His time at Tanglewood dipped a whopping three minutes to 18:52.3.

"It was fun to run at state," he said. "It was too bad that the whole team didn't get to go -- that's what we were going for. But it was nice to go individually, it's great to run against the best in the state."

He's hoping for a return trip to Tanglewood next year -- and hopes to have company.

"Hopefully, we can get the whole team to state and maybe we can place in the top 10," said Hicks, who also runs track in the spring. "That would be nice. As for me, I just want to keep getting better."

And that means many more daily trips to the gas station and back.