It was 7:45 on an unusually mild late-June morning, and Nic Smith had just returned to the Martin High School track after an 8-mile training run along Kelly Elliott Road in southwest Arlington.
While many of his classmates are still in bed, Smith is working to become the next great Martin boys cross-country runner. That recent mornings were moist and cool was a nice bonus, but Smith rises early to run regardless of the conditions.
“My main plan is to get out before the sun comes up so it’ll still be somewhat cool,” said Smith, who will be a senior when the fall semester begins in August. “But yeah I’ll still be doing this when it gets to be the heat of the summer.”
If it seems like Martin always has a boys runner at state, it’s probably because the Warriors have indeed sent their top runner to Austin six out of the last eight seasons. The most recent state qualifier was then-senior Tyler Forde in 2013. Smith, who finished seventh at the District 3-5A meet in 2013 and ran in regionals, is motivated to follow in the footsteps of Forde and Cameron Villareal, who made it to state as a senior in 2012.
“He’s committed. He’s having a good summer,” Martin boys track coach Tim Mays said of Smith. “Nic’s going to be the next one. He’s going to be our team leader and he’s going to have a great season.”
Mays, who coached Villareal and Forde, will no longer be the cross-country coach this fall. Instead, he will focus on being an assistant on coach Bob Wager’s football staff. Boys cross-country will be led by baseball assistant coach Ken Rose. Mays said the coaching change will be to Smith and his teammates’ advantage.
“We were kind of limited in the meets we could go to last year because I had to work on Saturday morning, and so a lot of the meets we went to were on Fridays,” Mays said. “Now we can go to whatever meet is best for them not what’s best for the coaches to work around their schedules. And we always practice in the morning, which 95 percent of the time is the right thing to do. But there’s some times when you have something going on in the morning and you want to practice in the afternoon. I couldn’t do that because I had football practice.”
Smith agrees that Saturday meets are the best way to go toe to toe with some of the state’s fastest runners early in the season to gauge how he measures up. “Saturday meets are some of the more competitive meets, so I’ll be able to go head to head with some of the top guys in state,” Smith said. “So I can see where I’m at so I can push myself harder and try to compete with them.”
Smith’s not the only Martin runner pushing the pace this summer. Girls cross-country runner Ashley Johnson made it to state last season as a sophomore. The girls team, like the boys, has made it a goal to win the District 4-6A meet and then have a strong showing at regionals in Lubbock.
“I feel like we have a really good chance,” said Paige Donart, who will be a senior in the fall. “I love that we’re doing this together.”
Donart and her girls teammates are running 3 to 4 miles each morning right now, but will push the pace and increase the distance run as the season nears, said girls coach Julie Gage. No one has to coax the runners to wake early on summer mornings, she said.
“That’s the wonderful thing about these kids,” Gage said. “They’re committed to their sport. They show up active and ready to get to work.”