A little more than a year ago, Josh Sapp was about as far from being a cross country star as he could get.
He was a band kid.
As a member of the Greenbrier marching band's drum line, Sapp sat in the Brierpatch bleachers each Friday pounding out the beat to a Wolfpack football game.
"I'm always going to miss that, but I think I made the right choice," he said.
After marching band director Tom Smallwood stepped down after the 2005-06 season to become assistant principal at Riverside Middle School, Sapp decided to make a switch of his own. He put down the drumsticks and laced up his running shoes.
This past fall, the senior tried out for the cross country squad for the first time. Less than four months later, he's The Augusta Chronicle's Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"In a way I don't consider him a first-year runner because he ran track," Greenbrier cross country and track coach Katie Smallwood said. "I didn't push him. You rarely have success in cross country when the kids are coerced into it, but when he asked about it I told him cross country would be great for him."
Sapp didn't just pick up the sport in August. He said he logged 500 miles of distance running this past summer in preparation for the 2006 season. The mileage paid off as Sapp led the Greenbrier boys team to a first-place finish in the Region 3-AAAA meet Nov. 4. A week later, Sapp and the Greenbrier squad ran to a sixth-place finish in the Class AAAA state meet in Carrollton.
Sapp's time of 16:31 put him in sixth place individually. The only other Augusta-area runner with a comparable time was Bobby Armenta from Hephzibah, whose time of 16:30 was good enough for second place in the Class AAA meet. Sapp, who finished one second behind in only his first year of cross country competition, said the success he's had has shattered all his previous expectations.
"My goal was to break 17:30 this year, but the first meet I ran a 17-flat, so I didn't know what to expect after that," he said.
Sapp didn't start off the season as a complete stranger to the sport. Cross country success runs in the family.
"I was at every meet last year watching my brother run," Sapp said. "I'd go from traveling to a football game on Friday night to wherever the cross country meet was Saturday morning."
Josh's brother, Zach Sapp, was a senior at Greenbrier last season and, as a member of the Tennessee Wesleyan cross country team, finished 2006 as the school's top men's runner.
Josh Sapp said he hopes his success in the sport will also get him into college.
"I saw if you try it and do well you can have a future in it. For me, it's opened quite a few doors," he said. "I'm still undecided, but I want to go into pharmacy. I've heard from UGA, Mercer, Tennessee Wesleyan, Citadel and Sanford."
Until then, Sapp's competitive streak continues. Although the high school cross country season is over, Sapp is still running as a member of Team Georgia, a squad of the top runners in the state based on the times run in the GHSA state meet in November.
Sapp's sixth-place finish earned him an invite to the Footlocker South Regional meet as a member of Team Georgia.
"I didn't do as well as I should have because I messed up my knee at the two-mile mark," Sapp said. "I stretched out a tendon and was on crutches for a week."
Sapp said the injury wasn't serious, and he'll be back for the 2007 track season to compete in the mile and two-mile events.
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 863-6165 or firstname.lastname@example.org
MEET JOSH SAPP
The 2006 Augusta Chronicle Cross-Country Runner of the Year
ALL-AREA STATLINE: Sixth place finish at the GHSA Class AAAA state meet in Carrollton, Ga. Finished first in the Region 3-AAAA meet with a personal best time of 16:14.
FAVORITE FOOD: fettuccine alfredo
FAVORITE MOVIE: Rudy
FAVORITE ATHLETE: Alan Webb
FAVORITE COURSE: Berry College course in Mount Berry, Ga. It was the first course where Sapp broke the 17 minute barrier in a 5-kilometer race. He finished ninth out of over 550 runners.
FAVORITE TEAM: University of Tennessee
WHAT HE'D LIKE FOR CHRISTMAS: A new Ipod
- Jeff Sentell