Homewood cross country
Homewood sophomore cross-country runner Will Stone leads teammate Paul Selden at the Class 6A, Section 3 meet on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala. The duo finished first and second.
Homewood's success on the postseason awards circuit has mimicked its recent success on the cross-country course. The Patriots, quite simply, have distanced themselves from the pack.
On Monday morning, Homewood sophomore Will Stone was named the 2016-2017 Gatorade Alabama Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. The announcement came one week after his teammate, Lainey Phelps, was named the Gatorade Alabama Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"Coming off of an outstanding freshman year, I knew to expect a lot, and he delivered," said Homewood cross-country coach Lars Porter. "The only (pleasant) surprise was him breaking 16:00 in his first race of the season. He's always consistent, and after that first race, we knew we were going to be in for a great season."
Stone is the state's first sophomore to win the Gatorade boys award. All previous recipients were juniors or seniors. As a Gatorade state award winner, Stone is now in contention to earn the title of Gatorade National Boys Country Runner of the Year. The selection should be announced within the next few weeks.
"Will is one of those guys who's just mature beyond his years and works harder than anyone and kind of always has," said Homewood head track and field coach Tom Esslinger. "He gets strategy and really listens to coaching."
Propelled by his work ethic and racing acumen, Stone enjoyed a breakout cross-country campaign this past fall. He captured first-place finishes in five races and lowered his 5K personal best by 41 seconds. He recorded his fastest time of 15 minutes, 40.83 seconds at the Jesse Owens Classic on Oct.1
Stone capped the fall season by leading his Patriots to a fifth straight state cross-country title at the Nov. 12 state meet. After powering through a cramp, Stone used a decisive move at the race's 2-mile mark to pull away from the Class 6A field and capture his first state individual championship. His winning time of 16:01.40 bested Opelika's Ben Garner -- who had entered as the favorite -- by 12 seconds.
"Will's greatest asset is his unwavering competitive confidence. He welcomes competition as a challenge and is unshaken by ups and downs," Porter said. "He certainly wants to win, but rather than getting discouraged by losses, he reflects on ways to improve. His maturity in this is remarkable."
Homewood cross country
Homewood High School cross-country runners Will Stone and Paul Selden placed first and third in the Class 6A boys race at the AHSAA State Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Stone is now the third member of the Patriots cross-country and track and field program to be selected as a Gatorade award winner. In addition to him and Phelps, Kiara Williams was named the state's track and field athlete of the year in 2015.
Notably, the selection of Stone and Phelps marked the first time since the award's inception in 2007 that its Alabama recipients have originated from the same high school. Phelps, like Stone, led her team to the Class 6A state title -- the first girls cross-country championship in school history.
Homewood's collective emergence as a distance powerhouse, Porter said, can be attributed to the "culture of continuous hard work and competitiveness" that was established a few years ago by former Patriots.
"When kids arrive as freshman with an attitude of 'how good can I be, and what will it take to achieve that,' the foundation is set for success," Porter said.
The Gatorade award also acknowledges achievement outside of athletics, and Stone has excelled there too.
According to the official Gatorade press release, he has maintained a 4.12 GPA, volunteered at The Bell Center and been an active member of his church youth group.
Like many Homewood students, Stone also is a member of the high school's band. There were many times this fall when he would perform at a Friday night football game and then wake up early to race on Saturday morning.
"He's just a special kid," Esslinger said, "not just an exemplary athlete, but person all the way around."