By Rubin E. Grant
Elijah Joseph earned All-State honors by finishing seventh in the 2021 Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 7A state cross-country meet.
This fall, Hoover’s senior distance runner has loftier goals in mind, and they’re not just to win the individual title.
He wants to help the Bucs win their first boys cross-country team state championship since 2007.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” Joseph said. “We haven’t been able to win it for the past 15 years. I’m going to help my team as much as possible to win it.”
The Bucs finished third last year behind Huntsville, which won its fourth consecutive Class 7A title, and St. Paul’s Episcopal.
“You can see the potential of my class the last four years to compete for the blue (state championship) trophy, but now it’s time to win it,” Joseph said.
Joseph is one of five top runners on the squad. The group also includes seniors Danny Tackett, Matthew Harden and Cannon Peters, and junior Zander Dakis.
“They’re a good group, a tight group,” Hoover track coach Chris Schmidt said. “Every week a different guy can lead our team. Last year, there were only about 12 seconds between 1-5 on the team. This year they will be fun to watch.”
“We always have a deep team and we’re so close,” Joseph said. “The top guy can bounce around all season because we’re so talented. We’ll be competing against each other and then we’ll be competing for state.”
Joseph figures to be in the hunt, something he was wasn’t able to do in the spring as Hoover won the Class 7A outdoor track and field state title. He was still feeling the effects of the flu he had during sectionals and did not qualify in the 1,600- or 800-meter runs. He did help Hoover finish second in the 4×800 relay, an event it won in the 2022 state outdoor meet en route to the team title.
“I’m beyond excited about my senior year,” Joseph said. “I’m ready to redeem myself this fall.”
Hoover opened its cross-country season last week in the Warrior 2 Mile Invitational at Thompson. The Bucs will compete in the Chickasaw Trails Invitational on Sept. 10 in Moulton at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park, site of the state meet.
‘He’s Got That It factor.’
Joseph became a runner when he was in the third grade. He was playing church league basketball when his coach, former Hoover track coach Devon Hind, noticed him and told him he should try track.
“He kind of got me out there,” Joseph said. “He apparently saw something in me eight to 10 years before I started running seriously.”
Schmidt also sees it.
“He’s got that ‘it’ factor,” Schmidt said. “Athletes with that have a huge advantage.
“He’s a guy who knows how to prepare himself when he works out and when it’s time for race day, he knows how to turn it on. He’s a gritty kid. With distance runners you have to be smart, and he is.”
Joseph’s personal best time in cross-country (5K races) is 15:50. His best in the 1,600 is 4:17 and in the 800 it’s 1:54.
He prefers track to cross-country because he believes it’s a truer test of who’s better.
“Cross-country is a great sport for building character, but the course – some are flat and some are hilly – and the elements could determine the outcome,” Joseph said. “But track shows who’s better because there are no variables.”
For Joseph, there is one constant whether he’s running cross-country or track.
“I love the process of building up for a race,” he said, adding that includes sleeping and eating right. “For me, it’s all about mental preparation, especially in a cross-country race. You know there’s going to be pain, so you have to keep pushing through the pain when it hits and the only way you can do that is to be mentally prepared.”