The Alpena Community College cross country team has carved a competitive niche for itself in under two years and is already attracting some of the area's top distance runners.
This point was driven home on Thursday when coach Mark Jacobs signed three of the best runners from Alpena High School: Elliott Zarins, John Smith and Elisha Martin.
The three of them will join fellow Wildcat RJ Centala, who signed with ACC last month.
The ACC cross country team’s newest recuits. Front Row: Elliott Zarins, John Smith, Elisha Martin. Back Row: Tammy Zarins, Nancy Smith, Pat Smith, Denise Martin, Chris Martin.
Upon first glance, short distance sprinter Zarins may not seem like the most obvious candidate for cross country. After all, he was recently voted the Alpena News Honor Roll Invitational Male Athlete of the Meet with two first place finishes in the 100 and 200 dashes.
However, Zarins is no stranger to long distance running: along with his dash medals, he took two first place medals on the 800 and 1,600 relay teams.He was also a member of the Alpena boys soccer team and Jacobs has recruited several soccer players to run cross country in his two years as coach.
Zarins earned second team All-Conference in the 200 dash and as part of the 800 relay team at the Big North Championships. In spite of these accomplishments, Zarins has little to no experience in true long distance running.
"He is nervous about jumping up to long distance running. I told him that there is no real difference between a 400 meter dash and an 8K (cross country distance), an 8K just hurts longer," Jacobs said.
Zarins ran indoor track for Jacobs this year and helped expand his coach's running knowledge.
"Every practice he picked my brain on how he could get out of the starting blocks faster. Since I'm a distance runner; I wasn't very familiar with starting blocks," Jacobs said. "I spent hours reading and watching videos to help him become better. I appreciated the fact that he not only took my advice, but taught me a lot as well."
While Zarins pure athletic skill should help him quickly adjust to the rigors of cross country, it'll be business as usual for Martin.
Martin has participated in both track and cross country at Alpena High and finished third in the 1,600 run and first in the 1,600 and 3,200 relay in the Alpena News Honor Roll meet.
He also received All-Conference honors in the Big North championship, earning third team honors in the 3,200 relay.
Interestingly, Martin also picked up minutes on the boys basketball team. Although he was not a starter, he got on the court when the team needed his raw speed and energy.
"Elisha is like the energizer bunny. He knows one speed and that's full out. I love the fact that he gives 110 percent in everything that he does," Jacobs said. "I know that every coach that has coached him has thoroughly enjoyed him being a part of their team."
Running for ACC is something of a dream come true for Martin.
"I have always wanted to play a college sport. Mr. Jacobs talked to me in my Junior year about running for ACC. This fall, I made the decision to run for ACC, which I'm very excited about," Martin said.
Although Smith may not have had the same honors as Zarins or Martin, Jacobs is still anticipating great things from a runner he classified as an "outstanding cross country and track athlete."
"I would not be surprised if John was my number one runner when the season begins. He's that good. I've known John for several years and know the talent he possesses," Jacobs said. "When he runs, he makes it look effortless. To top off his talent, he is a gentleman among gentleman."
Smith found many advantages in running for ACC: he can stay close to home, save money pursuing his associate degree in pre-med and prepare himself academically for the more difficult classes at the university level.
"Its great to get the chance to run on the greatest local college team that I can think of right now. My goal is to get under a 27.30, which is an excellent time," Smith said.
Smith also felt more comfortable working under a coach whom he knew quite well.
"(Coach Jacobs) is an excellent coach and is one of the main reasons why I want to stay at ACC," he said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.