Nick Long always finds a way to rise to the occasion. This North Hall High senior cross country runner can always be counted on to run his best in a pressure situation.
His timing was right on point this year, running his best race in his final event of the season. Long ran a new personal best with a time of 16 minutes, 7 seconds at the Foot Locker Southern Regional on Nov. 24 in Charlotte, N.C. He qualified to run against the top prep cross country runners in the southeast with a fourth-place finish at the Class AAA state meet (16:20) on Nov. 10 in Carrollton.
For his efforts, Long is The Times 2007 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
He was realistic about his trip to the Foot Locker Regional. A trip to the national finals would have required a top 15 finish for which the cutoff turned out to be a 15:26. But he still wanted to make the most of the opportunity to run against such an elite field.
"All year I knew I wanted to go out strong," Long said. "I feel with a big meet it really increases my drive to do well and really ups the tempo."
The race was going according to plan for Long until he started feeling a little tension in his leg on the downhill portion of the course. It turned out he pulled his solias muscle in his calf. But even a little lingering pain didn’t stop Long from recording a personal best time against a who’s who of cross country athletes.
"It makes you feel good to know you can run with these great runners," Long said. "It was a pretty stout field."
The race against a field representing the best out of 12 states was a nice change of pace for Long. All season, he found a way to jump to the front of the pack locally, adding another Hall County championship (17:24) and Region 7-AAA title (16:30) to his name.
The individual accomplishments in his career have been nice for Long. But what he remembers most from his time running cross country at North Hall was the Class AAA state title the team brought home his junior season. It marked the first team state title in school history.
Long finished ninth individually in the state as a junior (17:07) as a major part of the state championship team.
"I take more pride in the state championship team than any individual accomplishment," Long said. "That team we had was just like a family."
Long’s high school career isn’t finished yet. He is now ready to shift his focus to track season where he is going to try his hand at the 800 meter, 1600 and 3200 before deciding what discipline to focus on for Region 7-AAA and state championship contention.
He’s equally as accomplished in track & field with a state title to his name in the 3200 (9:51) as a sophomore en route to being named the Times’ 2006 Boys Track Athlete of the Year.
With all that he’s accomplished it’s easy to see why he is a college prospect in cross country. According to Long, he’s looking at Appalachian State, Clemson, Furman and UNC-Wilmington, among others.
Long’s future seems set athletically. But his acclimation into cross country wasn’t as easy. He still remembers finishing in ninth place in his first cross country race as a seventh grader.
But even that didn’t keep his interest. He went back to playing football in the eighth grade.
But his freshman season he was guided back into running by 2007 graduate and eventual state championship teammate Grant Russell.
And since then everything has been history.