Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- It's just a matter of dominoes for Deerfield-Windsor's Taylor Withers.

You know, one domino hits the next, and so on and so on. That's why Withers is where he is today, winning his third consecutive Herald Player of the Year for boys cross country.

"I started running in eighth grade to help soccer,'' said Withers, who has also been The Herald's Player of the Year for boys swimming the last three years, and is working on a fourth this season. "The running helped me train for swimming, and then I quit playing soccer.''

Hard to imagine Withers quitting anything.

He runs at life at full speed, gobbling up obstacles in huge gulps, never slowing down, and rarely looking back.

He doesn't have time for either. Withers should be a time-management specialist. Nobody rules the clock and endures a daily regimen like he does.

"It's really amazing,'' said DWS cross-country coach Aly Joslin. "Some of the things he does, it's quite incredible. He gets everything he deserves. Hopefully, he'll go to the next level and be successful. The cross country stuff keeps him fit for swimming, and swimming is his first love.''

Still, Withers has been a force in cross country throughout his high school career. He defended his region title this season and then went on to finish fifth at the GISA Class AAA state meet for the second consecutive year.

The juggling act is a little overwhelming.

Withers is up at 5:15 a.m. and in the pool at 5:30 three mornings a week, and swims after school three days a week -- Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Even his mornings are micro-managed.

"It's eight minutes from my house to the pool at Albany State,'' Withers said. "I've timed it.''

He trains for the cross country squad three days a week in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after school with his Deerfield teammates.

"I just chill on Sundays,'' he said. "I'm extremely lazy on Sundays.''

Somehow, he finds a time for a social life and has a 4.0 GPA in the classroom, where he finds every imaginable way to study.

"I just make the most out of my free time I have at school,'' he said. "Between classes and during (my) free period I study and do as much homework as I can do. I've gotten pretty good at time management.''

Withers also never missed a Deerfield home football game this year, including all three postseason games at Webb Memorial.

"Some of my friends are confused how I do it,'' he said of his hectic daily routine. "I like it. I like having that kind of balanced lifestyle, and managing my time allows me to focus on one thing at a time.''

Does he ever.

Withers won the state title in the 50-meter freestyle, the 100-meter freestyle and was fifth in the 100-meter backstroke last year, and believes the running makes him a better swimmer. But he doesn't take running lightly.

"He is like the ultimate athlete,'' said Joslin, who ironically coaches the boys soccer team as well at DWS. "I'd love to have him on my soccer team, but surely understand why he doesn't play soccer.

"His dedication to cross country has been tremendous. It's the way he goes about it, his commitment and his effort. And he is also a leader. He's more of a relaxing kind of leader. He always comes in with a joke, and he's very funny. Before a race, he will go around and joke and get the other kids relaxed, get them settled down before a race.''

That's part of Withers' secret: He stays relaxed himself, never complaining about this path he chose -- this two-sport grind that is mind-boggling to everyone else.

Actually, make that a three-sport grind; Withers is also the track team's top long distance runner every spring.

"It's just self-gratifying,'' Withers said. "When you see your hard work pay off that's gratifying. I played soccer until I was in eighth grade, then tried running to help me in soccer. I realized I had a knack for it, and it made me appreciate running. And my running helped my swimming.

"It's kind of a sick benefit. The progress I made in swimming helped the progress I made in running. It's all tied together."