Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Peachtree Ridge's Josh Brickell is the Daily Post's Runner of the Year. Brickell won the Class AAAAAA state championship, his third consecutive state crown in cross country.
During his high school running career, Josh Brickell has collected a lot of medals, awards and plaques.
The Peachtree Ridge cross country runner keeps most of them in the basement, but a few remain in his bedroom.
"There's a few that I'm really proud of," Brickell said. "Kind of the first couple of races I won. I hung those up and the ones from Foot Locker."
Brickell, the Daily Post's Runner of the Year for a third time, keeps the awards out of sight as a reminder that there's always more to accomplish. He's one of the most decorated runners to ever step foot on a cross country course, but he would never tell you that.
"He's a humble kid. He never let his success go to his head," Peachtree Ridge coach Ron Clanton said.
Brickell won his third straight state championship in the highest classification in November. He's the first male runner to win three state titles in a row in the highest classification since Travis Grindstaff in 1985-87. Wesleyan's Cristian Duval is the only other male Gwinnett runner to win three in a row from 2000-02 in Class A and AA.
"He had an awesome season," Clanton said. "I think he's in an elite group. He comes from the fertile bed of running in Gwinnett County."
Brickell finished his career as a two-time county champion, three-time Region 7 winner and three-time state champion. The third state title was one Brickell was finally able to enjoy as he walked off the course at Carrollton High School.
"It was really nice. I really just tried to soak it in and enjoy it," he said. "I remember the first one was kind of a rush and I didn't quite really know what was happening until I was back home and I was like 'Oh wow, I won.' I felt like last year I didn't really enjoy it as much as I should have. This year I focused on enjoying the moment, senior year, the last one. Make the most of it and have more memories."
Brickell posted a time of 15 minutes, 55.32 seconds to win the state title, nearly 30 seconds faster than the runner-up. He won six of the seven races he competed in this year. The only race Brickell didn't win was when he took third at the Great American Cross Country Festival, a regional race of the South's top runners, and he placed third.
"He's defeated every guy in the state of Georgia quite handily," Clanton said. "Look at his body of work, his GPA, commitment and leadership, he's an awesome kid."
With Brickell's dominance in Georgia, he focused on regional and national races this year. He was runner-up at the Foot Locker South Regional, qualifying for the national championship in San Diego. He's the second Georgia runner to ever do that, joining Etowah's Grindstaff in 1986-87.
With all of Brickell's accomplishments, it's left some to wonder what he has left to accomplish.
"I definitely have stuff to be hungry for. There's always places to improve. Maybe it was the state level for me earlier and now it's more at the regional and national level," Brickell said. "In college it will be a whole new level where I'll just be another guy in the 300-people race. I'll finish 110th and think it was a good day. I realize that on the high school and state level, I've been dominant and you have to put it in perspective and realize there's a lot better people out there. They are just waiting for you."
Brickell has narrowed down his college choices to Duke, Furman and Georgetown. All three are high academic schools that aren't known for producing elite runners like other programs.
"I mean there's not too many professional runners, so you have to make sure you have a plan after those four years," said Brickell, who has a 4.0 GPA.
To hear Brickell talk about his future, beyond running, doesn't surprise Clanton.
"He looks at the big picture more than most kids do. He's an elite runner but he knows there's life beyond running," Clanton said. "He's the complete student-athlete. He's a pretty elite kid."
With all of Brickell's success on the cross country course, he still has some unfinished business in track. He owns six career state titles, including three in track. But he placed third in the 1,600-meter run last season after winning the title in 2010. It's something on his mind as he gears up for track next month.
"I want to go back to Jefferson and win the mile and two mile at state," Brickell said. "I didn't get the mile last year. I'm really hoping to get that back."
Success in Jefferson will mean more medals and awards Brickell can keep in his basement. Maybe one day he'll have a room plastered wall-to-wall with plaques and honors.
"He's a great kid," Clanton said. "One that Gwinnett will remember for a while."