The freshman is posting impressive times while on a limited mileage plan.
Last week, I brought you the tale of a freshman cross country runner dealing with a family legacy in the form of his brother’s school records.
This week, I bring you the tale of a freshman cross country runner dealing with a different kind of family legacy: His dad is the coach.
Brendan Roper has been Riverview High’s top finisher in three races this season, including at the Babe Zaharias Twilight Challenge in Tampa on Aug. 30, where he set the fastest time of the Rams’ season (17:28.90). He started running in sixth grade at Sarasota Middle when he took interest in an upcoming 5K the school was hosting. The interest was his alone — Jay Roper, Brendan’s father and the Rams boys cross country coach, said the last thing he wanted to do was force his son to run. That said, Roper was ecstatic to see that interest take hold naturally, he said, and the two began training for the 5K soon after.
Brendan’s first race went better than either Roper anticipated. He finished in 18:51, and from that day forward, he has been around the Rams program, getting acquainted with the high school way of doing things.
“He has been the rabbit everyone’s chasing at practice for the last two years,” Jay said.
Now that Brendan has arrived at the high school level, what is his and Jay’s relationship? Has it changed? Not really, they said. Brendan said he and his dad spend an hour, or more, going over notes before each race: Whether the course is fast or slow, the race’s top competition, splits Brendan is aiming for and more.
When asked if his dad was making him run more than the other kids, Brendan said the opposite was true. The Ropers are trying to limit the 5-foot-2, 80 pound Brendan to running 35 miles a week until his body stops growing. Long strides mean faster times, after all.
“I ran too much in high school,” Jay said. “I was doing 80-90 miles a week. That slowed my growth way down. I didn’t grow until my senior year when I cut my mileage down to 40-50 a week. We are trying to maintain, keep him (Brendan) injury free and keep him motivated.”
That last part should not be an issue. Brendan said his goal for the season is breaking the 17-minute mark. Long term, the school record of 15:47.95, set by Blake Riley in 2015, is in his sights. Jay thinks his son has a realistic shot at it. As prepared as Brendan was for the training part of high school cross country, the competitions are still proving an adjustment.
“Finishing 86th in a race (as he did at the Florida Horse Park Invitational on Sep. 7), I am not used to that,” Brendan said. Out of 360 runners, I think that’s still good, but the mid-pack finish has only provided him with more motivation. He likes to pick out runners, then overtake them, one by one, he said.
With his father at his side, Brendan has a strong shot at chasing down all his future dreams.