Josh Brickell is hesitant to admit it, but he wasn't running his hardest towards the end of the season.
The Peachtree Ridge cross country runner is as humble and respectful as they come and he doesn't want to diminish the hard work of his opponents.
But Brickell has other goals in mind.
Yes, he wanted to repeat as the Class AAAAA state champion, but the Daily Post's Runner of the Year is on a path to be one of the state's greatest runners.
"I felt like I did what I needed to and competed well," Brickell said of the state title. "I'm proud of what I've done and I'm ready to carry that momentum into Footlocker."
Ah, Footlocker. The measuring stick for success in cross country. It's the one race that can change a runner's career. For the last month Brickell has been preparing for the prestigious meet in Charlotte this week. He tapered off toward the end of the season, but was still running strong enough to repeat as state champ.
"We're looking forward to the big test at Footlocker now," Peachtree Ridge coach Ron Clanton said. "I think that will pretty much be a good barometer of where he stacks up nationally. That's really what we're looking forward to."
There's only been 14 runners from Georgia to qualify for Footlocker nationals in San Diego. South Gwinnett's Josh Crowfoot was the first from Gwinnett in 1996. Grayson's Kirubel Erassa and Berkmar's Girma Mecheso have placed eighth at nationals in 2009 and 2006, respectively, the highest finishes ever by Georgia runners.
"You look online and you see the great names like (Ben) Hubers, Erassa, (Tyler) Anyan and all those guys and the times they've put at national meets," Brickell said. "It's pretty cool to think maybe one day I could do that and be on that level with them."
Brickell placed 25th last year and the top 10 advance to the national meet in San Diego. The junior has a pretty good shot at reaching nationals if this season is any indication. Brickell won every race he competed this year, including the flrunners.com Invitational. The meet featured some of the south's top runners, including Belen Jesuit's (Fla.) Elliot Clemente. The senior was fifth at Footlocker Regionals last year.
"I think Josh accomplished a lot this year," Clanton said. "We were able to run against the best in Georgia and he went throughout the year undefeated. We went down to Florida and he ran against the best guys in Florida and he beat them."
Brickell posted wins at the county meet, claimed his second Region 7-AAAAA title and also won six other regular season meets.
"It's like what are you going to do next?" Clanton said. "What we want to do with Josh is we want him to get better and we want him to be consistent and stay healthy."
If those things happen, Brickell can put together one of the most decorated running careers the state has ever seen. The junior is at the top of his class academically and has a 106 grade-point average with advanced placement courses. He already owns two individual cross country titles, he won state in the mile and two mile last year and helped Peachtree Ridge to the Class AAAAA team title. That's five titles and he still has a year and a half of school left. Brickell has won just about every title imaginable, expect a team championship in cross country.
"I want to see our team back up on the podium," Brickell said. "Sitting out on the infield alone, it's just not the same. I've got the individual accolades, but to win a team state championship or get back up on the podium again would be huge for me."
Brickell joins a long list of runners who have won two individual cross country state titles. No runner has ever won three in Class AAAAA and Brickell will use next season to try to become the first three-time state champion in the state's highest classification since Etowah's Travis Grindstaff from 1985-87. Grindstaff was also a two-time Footlocker Nationals qualifier.
"At this point, we just try to keep him healthy and stay out of his way," Clanton said.