When Elijah Brooks was in fifth and sixth grade, he would regularly come to Columbus North cross-country practice to run with the team.
At that time, the Bull Dogs, led by Andrew Diehn, Christopher Kelsey and Michael Sublette, were in the midst of winning three consecutive state championships. Throughout his four years of high school, Brooks has tried to help North carry on that tradition.
“Fifth and sixth grade, I’m really short, and I’m looking up to these giants of Columbus North cross-country and trying to emulate what they’ve done and just trying to follow their lead of showing up every day and working really hard,” Brooks said.
Brooks has spent most of his senior season going back and forth with junior Charlie Allen for the team’s No. 1 spot. The past two weeks, Brooks has been the Bull Dogs’ top runner in the Brown County Sectional and Brown County Semistate.
On Saturday afternoon, he’ll lead ninth-ranked North into the state finals at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.
“It just feels like he’s always been around,” North coach Rick Weinheimer said. “So he has a real appreciation for what the people before him have done, and I certainly think he’s had the kind of year that he’ll have good memories from.”
Although Brooks was a junior varsity runner his first two years of high school, he learned from leaders Kaden Eaton and Andy Carr, who were seniors on the 2013 team, and Seth Williams and Chase Ballard, who were seniors on the 2014 squad.
Brooks followed the leadership of those runners and now tries to pass that on to his younger teammates.
“If you show up every day and run hard, you’re going to get other people to show up and run hard,” Brooks said. “That’s how all of our guys have gotten better — showing up every day, working hard and putting in the work for three or four years.”
As a junior, Brooks became a full-time varsity runner. He ran a personal-best 16 minutes, 7 seconds in last year’s Brown County Regional.
Brooks’ best time this year is 16:15 in the Brown County Sectional.
“I think he’s developed the work ethic,” Weinheimer said. “He’s very thoughtful about how he races, and I think both of those things are paying off this year. I think Elijah has a special season that he’ll look back on and feel very proud of.”
Brooks credited the coaching staff of Weinheimer and assistants Jan Matchette, Bethany Scruton and Danny Fisher with his development.
“I think from a running perspective and just a physical perspective, I’ve grown a lot,” Brooks said. “I’ve gotten faster and stronger. But I think I’ve learned more from coach Weinheimer. I think I’ve learned a lot more about how to be successful, how to grow as a person a lot more.”
Grace College, where last year’s top North runner Ben Rankin is a freshman, is currently at the top of Brooks’ list of potential college cross-country and track programs. He also is considering Indiana University.
Brooks will wrap up his high school cross-country career Saturday. The top 25 earn All-State honors, and the top five teams earn spots on the awards podium.
“I’ll just do the best I can, and if that puts me All-State, that’s awesome,” Brooks said. “If not, it’s still awesome. I want my team to do as well as possible. That’s all we can really ask from any of our guys — that they do their best on that day.”
Name: Elijah Brooks
School: Columbus North
Sports: Cross-country, track
Favorite sport: Cross-country
Favorite athlete: Steve Prefontaine
What: Boys and Girls Cross-Country State Finals
When: 1 p.m. Saturday (girls), 1:45 p.m. Saturday (boys)
Where: LaVern Gibson Championship Cross-Country Course, 599 S. Tabortown Rd., Terre Haute
Who: 24 boys and 24 girls teams, including the Columbus North boys and girls and Jennings County boys