Adam Burlison competes at the NXN in 2022
- - -
The NXR South Championship boys team race will be an exciting race to watch. However, the race will have synchronous individual impacts for runners on the non qualifying teams.
Several of the top boys will be running to help their teams advance, but the importance of their finishes will be two-fold.
With the team battle expected to be close among five to six teams with legitimate opportunities, that will leave number one and number two runners from the non-qualifiers sparring it out with one another as well as individual runners.
Let's address the elephant in the room - - Adam Burlison is running this weekend. He hasn't been seen a lot outside of the Friday Night Lights, which we all know is center stage in Texas. He signed to the University of Oregon to run, so we know he is still serious about the sport.
Burlison was on center stage much of last season. His year in track was one of the best track seasons in some time, but he is also the reigning defending NXR South champion. While we might not know how good of shape he is in, I do know he has been training regardless of his time spent playing football this fall. With 4:02 and 8:54 on his resume, all things will have to go through the champ.
North Richland Hills senior Ethan Gonzalez is a revelation of what the sport is about and what most coaches preach and teach. He is a testament of patience, devotion, and application. Much like Burlison, after committing to running things took off and over a five minute drop in time in the 5K to boast a 14:44 PR. Unlike most of the contenders in this race, Gonzalez has experienced running in the very back and that is insight that could be the biggest piece of motivation anyone in the field has.
Not many sophomores run sub 9:00 for 3200m, but Jesuit (LA) junior Brady Mullen did so last year. His 8:59 lowered his 9:10 from the Texas Distance Festival and increased the confidence of the young runner. Now the leader at Jesuit, he has three sub fifteen-minute runs this year including a Louisiana Division 1 state title.
There were a lot of good UIL 6A runners who had impressive performances this season. We finally got everyone on the same on the same course and it was Caden Leonard taking home the state title. Leonard put two moves on the field, one to distance himself from the lead pack after the two mile mark and then in the final stages to hold off a surge from Hudson Haley for the win. The kid is confident and like Mullen, he will be running for his team and maybe to continue his winning streak. He ran 15:06 on this very course to win the Nike South Invitational in September.
Austin Vandegrift junior Hudson Haley was runner-up at the UIL state meet and has been exciting to watch all season long. The poise and control he exhibits in every race is a joy to watch. Haley is in an interesting position; as he goes, so does his Vandegrift squad. They will flank him for the early stages of the race and take off on his queue. I give the advantage of knowledge to Haley as he will be coming from behind which will enable him to see and count other team's top runners, which will be information other front runners won't have.
Bridgeland junior Benjamin Montgomery might be one of the front runners who will be running loose. His team will fare better with him going out on his own to score as little as possible. He has shown the propensity to go out with the leaders and the 9:00 3200m runner is good enough to stay up there. He was third at the UIL 6A state meet in 15:09 and was runner-up to Leonard at Nike South.
Leland Crawford is another capable Jesuit runner who should be in the mix. He has proven on the big stage that he is a serious competitor. He ran 15:09 for 5K at the Southern Showcase in the rain as well as 15:29 at the Nike XC Town Twilight. Both of those runs were on wide open collegiate courses and that is the opposite of Bear Branch Park. If he can handle the tight spaces he will be a threat.
As with teammates Mullen and Crawford, Carroll has a duo that showed they can tag team a race Blake Bullard is a front runner and he proved at the Texas state meet that he can piece together the mid race and finish to go with his fast start. That is all he really has to do this weekend. He has the fitness and anaerobic stamina and perhaps the least miles on his legs over a career.
The Cypress Bridgeland junior Benjamin Montgomery has his Houston legs under him now. We saw him make the final transition from his San Antonio Holmes training to Coach Waters' program during the end of last track season. This fall, he has demonstrated how strong and consistent he has become. Montgomery is a lead pack runner and his 9:00 3200m ability has proven to keep him in each race. He does his talking with his legs and that has spoken volumes so far this season.
We've seen Deer Creek lead runner Graham Mitchell progress over the years. He has raced at Nike South and TDF and has gotten faster and faster. He ran 15:10 in the 5K at TDF for a PR in March only to open the cross country season with a 15:06 and 15:09 in his first two runs. He did have a lull at the OHSAA 6A race, but he has proven to be a threat in every race he runs.
Henok Hagos hasn't raced much this year, so he should have one of the freshest set of legs in the race. He has 15:16 and 15:18 runs in his two races this season and one includes a win over Ethan Gonzalez at the MileSplit TX Inv. Hagos is one of the more inexperienced runners in the field, but that could be as helpful as it is detrimental.
Aleksandr Acuna has taken steps this year and has been more consistent. The Denton Braswell junior has run in big races with wins at Coach T Inv and Lovejoy. Those wins were over Bentonville and Deer Creek runners to include mostly Texas boys.
Judah Macias-Alexander is also a threat and his racing over the last couple of weeks shows his fitness. Over the years, we've seen Alexander run fast early into the season, but this year, was the opposite. He has gotten faster over the last three meets and with two weeks since state his fitness could be A-1.
Abilene senior Andruw Villa is having the most consistent season of his career. Talent has never been the question for Villa and still isn't. He was runner-up at the state meet showing his ability to carry his fitness to the end.
Along the same lines of Hagos and Macias-Alexander with fresh legs comes Noah Strohman in the same light. The end of October was his first time on his legs since early September. His 15:46 and 15:31 were impressive, but with two weeks of additional training, a fresh and fitter Strohman is dangerous for everyone.
Speaking of dangerous, the Parra twins are wild cards for everyone. There is no question Franco Parra and Marcelo Parra can run. They are capable, fast, experiences, and always confident. The Princeton commits haven't run fast all year long, but that's the usual case for them. Both Franco and Marcelo qualified for NXN last year and Marcelo qualified for Champs.