Daniel Dean Jr. has big goals. Even though he's just a freshman at Middleton High, he says he wants to win a state cross country title this fall. And if he can't this season, Dean hopes to take state crowns the next three years.
That's a tall order for the 5-foot-2, 107-pound Dean. In fact, no boy in Florida has won four individual championships and only four have captured three in their prep careers. Among them is former Berkeley Prep star Rolf Steier, who went on to earn all-America honors at Stanford. He nearly produced four wins at the state meet, but was runner-up his freshman season.
Still, Dean believes in having lofty goals. And from the way he's been racing in this fall, it's clear he has the confidence and ability to be a state champion one day. Last year, he proved his potential by finishing second in the middle school state cross country championships. And in his first three invitational high school meets this fall, Dean has finished first (Lennard), fifth (West Hillsborough) and second (Ron Frost).
''It's different racing in high school,'' the 14-year-old Dean after finishing second to Keswick Christian senior Jacob Endrulat at Ron Frost. ''In middle school and AAU track, you race people close to your age. In high school, people are two, three, four years older than me.''
His father and coach, Daniel Dean, Sr., has guided other area runners to success. Among them are 2011 county track champions Franck Charles (1,600 meters) and Arthur Casey (800). Those runners peaked their senior seasons and are now running collegiately. Dean Sr. says his son just needs more time, more experience.
His son already has three of the hardest things to attain: a solid work ethic, passion for the sport and a good dose of talent.
FAST TIMES AT NORTH PORT HIGH
Last Saturday's North Port Invitational produced the top four girls times for 5,000 meters in the state this season, as well as five of the top 10 times. Among them was Plant senior Julia Rodriguez, whose time of 18 minutes, 28 seconds is No. 4 on the state leaderboard.
After clockings like those from one meet, debate often rages about the accuracy of a course, proving once again times in cross country are relatively meaningless.
But most coaches, including Plant veteran coach Roy Harrison, said the North Port course appeared accurate. It was also measured by other coaches by wheel.
Harrison said it produced fast times because the course was flat, about 20 percent asphalt and weather conditions were relatively cool that morning.
The flrunners.com meet in Titusville, set for Friday and Saturday, is one of the largest and most competitive in the state.
Locally, two meets will be held, the Seffner Christian Invitational on the Dover Horse Trails and W.D. Johnson Invitational at E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin.
Heading out of state this weekend is Berkeley Prep, which will compete in the prestigious Great American Cross Country Festival in Cary, N.C.