Cabell Midland's Jacob Burcham is trying to become just the second male runner to win three state cross country crowns.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cabell Midland cross country head coach Chris Parsons has had a front row seat for one of the best shows in any sport the Mountain State has had to offer during the last few years.Parsons has been front and center (and sometimes leading the pack on an all-terrain vehicle) for the career of the Knights' Jacob Burcham, who today has the opportunity to win his third consecutive Class AAA individual cross country championship at Midland's home course in Ona."It's almost like getting a gift handed to you. With him, there's not a question he's got the natural ability," Parsons said. "He's got a special gift but he works hard. If he didn't work hard he wouldn't be on the national scene. He's one of those special types of kids that will probably never step through these doors at Cabell Midland again."Only one other male, North Marion's Aaron Toothman from 1994-96, has won three individual titles. Fairmont Senior's Margaret Blake is the only female to win three titles (1982-84), but she could also be getting company as St. Mary's Maggie Drazba goes for her third win at the state meet after first-place finishes in 2009 and last year.
"I try to stay focused for now," Burcham said. "Maybe when I'm done running I'll look back at that but I'm still running now."The top college running programs have been all over the recruiting trail for a shot at Burcham. Among the list of schools trying to secure a commitment from the Midland star are Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Oklahoma and defending NCAA champion Wisconsin."There's not a college powerhouse in the nation that hasn't contacted us or come to visit him," Parsons said.Burcham said he's interested in finding a school that not only has a strong running program but also one that features a good engineering school."[Engineering] is not the most important thing but it's in the top two or three most important things," Burcham said.He said the other things that will play into his decision are how well he can mesh with the team, the coach and the location of the school.Perhaps more important to Burcham than another individual honor - and he has received plenty of them during his time at Cabell Midland - is a team championship that eluded the Knights last season after winning consecutive Class AAA titles in 2009 and 2010.Midland has won seven state cross country team championships since the school opened in 1994 and Parsons said this year's Knights are the best team he has coached."This is the most talented, deep group I've ever coached," he said. "You get hunger pains in your belly and [last year's state meet] has been in our belly for a year. Jefferson came down here and ran a phenomenal race. We didn't have a good race but we still ran well. They came down here and beat us on our home course. We have nothing but the utmost respect for their program and they'll be our main competition again this year."Burcham is one of only four West Virginia runners to break 16 minutes this season.His time of 15:04 at the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational in Louisville, Ky., early this season is by far the fastest of the four with George Washington's Matthew Brafford, Jefferson's Ryan Graf and Fairmont Senior's Nick Trefz all breaking the 16-minute barrier but none with a time faster than 15:47 (posted by Brafford in the Class AAA, Region 3 meet last week).
Burcham cannot win the team title on his own for Midland, but the Knights have a stable of runners ready to, well, make a run at Jefferson.Avery Campbell, a senior, was 74th at last year's state meet for Midland but has been one of the team's strongest runners behind Burcham this season. Parsons said Campbell was not necessarily more talented than other runners but put in the work to raise his output on the course."The biggest thing that Avery has done is he understands that it's a year-round thing," Parsons said. "I can help direct and guide you on what you should be doing, but when it comes down to it you are the one that has to do it. Coming into our season he always produced in the workouts."Parsons said that while Burcham, Campbell and the rest of the deep Midland squad acknowledge they are the favorites today, they know that does not mean anything unless they perform up to expectations on the course ."We haven't raced Jefferson or University," he said. "You can be ranked whatever but unless you do it on Saturday and prove it, it means nothing."Reach Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org.