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Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year: Flowery Branch's Jake Shewbert
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Flowery Branch’s Jake Shewbert works in some off-season training along with teammates. Shewbert was chosen as the boys all-area cross country runner of the year. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Jake Shewbert completed quite a change of fortunes individually at the state cross country meet on Nov. 8.

The Flowery Branch junior finished fourth in the Class AAAAA race with a time of 16:37.02 in Carrollton, a year after being pushed into a tree in the woods by a fellow competitor and finishing 225th.

Shewbert, who had come in 17th at state as a freshman, certainly appreciated the reversal.

“Just to come back and have a shot to do it again since I was so young, it was a great feeling,” Shewbert said. “And I just kind of went out there and didn’t really think about winning or placement, just kind of ran for myself and just gave it everything I had, didn’t really have any fear and wound up fourth.”

The rough individual day a year earlier came as Flowery Branch won the state championship, but the Falcons finished in second place in 2014, seven points behind champion Clarkston.

He was grateful that he and the team both excelled at the state cross country meet this past fall. Losing the team title by such a close margin wasn’t easy, but it didn’t ruin the day. He was happy for Clarkston, which had finished second to Flowery Branch a year earlier.

“It’s a mixed emotion,” Shewbert said. “You’re excited for them, but disappointed at the same time because you were so close.”

Shewbert’s accomplishments at state came after securing the Region 8-AAAAA title a week earlier at Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. That victory helped Flowery Branch bring home another team region championship.

“I just went out there and gave it everything I had,” said Shewbert of the region race. “It was a miserable day.”

For his efforts, Shewbert is The Times’ 2014 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

The Falcon standout has been a fearless runner for much longer than one season, though. He began running cross country in seventh grade on a whim because all his friends were.

Shewbert had also heard from his basketball coaches that running could be his “thing” because he got up and down the court faster than other players.

“I just tried it out and saw I was kind of good at it and stuck with it, kept training hard,” Shewbert said.

In fact, when he came to Flowery Branch High after going to the Da Vinci Academy for middle school, he decided on the school because of its cross country program.

Despite being one of the youngest students in his class, he was one of the fastest runners on his team as a freshman.

That’s when Shewbert began to learn the importance of having a healthy mix of confidence and humility, realizing how much room for improvement he possessed.

“He’s grown into himself and matured as a young man,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said.

Sorrells said Shewbert is a great leader for the Falcons.

“He’s a goal-oriented kid,” Sorrells said. “He’s very academically strong. He’s just very driven. He has a clear vision of where he wants to go and what he’s doing.”

Shewbert noticed that the little things weren’t as likely to make him mad during the 2014 season.

As for vision, Shewbert already has an eye on some goals for his future. He’s interested in attending the Naval Academy while also keeping his options open about other possible schools. Running on the next level is definitely part of those plans.

Shewbert hopes to one day be a chief financial officer of a company or a financial advisor, like his father. He’s part of a mentorship in the field now.

“The more I do it, the more I like it,” Shewbert said.

The same could be said of his running. Shewbert was planning to run about eight miles on Friday. He likes to run 60 miles a week in the summer, taking Sunday off and occasionally running twice a day. Lifting weights is also part of his training.

Shewbert will be running track this spring, as well, participating in the 3,200 meters; 1,600 and occasionally the 800 and 4x1,600 relay.

He said taking fourth individually at the 2014 state cross country meet was satisfying, but he’ll try to run down a title in 2015. Shewbert said he’ll do it with an infusion of confidence from his 2014 performance.

“To come back and prove to myself that I’m a top-level runner, because I’ve always had doubts in myself, to come back, it reassured me that I’m on that level with the other guys,” Shewbert said. “It was just reassuring for me to get a little more drive back in me to keep going. So it was a good feeling.”

It makes Sorrells wish he had more than one year left to coach Shewbert.

“I wish I had him two or three more,” Sorrells said. “I’m going to enjoy this last year with him as much as possible.”

Shewbert said true runners don’t make it all about the win. It’s about having fun and being around a great group of people. Victory, he said, is “just an added bonus.” It’s one he’s experienced regularly, but it’s far from the only measuring stick he’s concerned with.

“I feel like I can look back and see myself, how much I’ve grown up and just taken a step forward,” Shewbert said.

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