Lee County’s Jacob Kennedy has dreams of running for the University of Georgia, and a scholarship awaits him if he proves himself this spring.
Henry David Thoreau's idea of being a man who walks to the beat of a different drummer wasn't necessarily supposed to be about distance running in Lee County.
But then again, Thoreau never met Jacob Kennedy.
Kennedy doesn't only walk on his own path to his own self-defined beat, but he runs there, mapping out a solitary course in life as well as in the world of distance running, where he has not only redefined the sport at Lee County High School, but set his own standards along the way.
That's Kennedy, who simply ran away from the pack this fall, shattering every cross country record at Lee County High and making himself an easy choice to win The Herald's Player of the Year in Cross Country.
Still, Kennedy is hard on himself.
"I think the freshman me would call the current me a failure,'' said Kennedy, who admits he can be critical of his own goals. "When I was a freshman four years ago I set goals for myself, to run the best time in the state. I wanted to be this huge phenom in running.''
He's still on his way.
"He has the goal of becoming the first runner from Lee County to get a Division 1 scholarship,'' said long-time Lee County cross country coach Tom Matheny, who has seen Kennedy out run history in Leesburg. "He's the best (distance runner) we've had here. He has run better times than anyone we've seen since I've been here.''
The D-1 scholarship is a possibility for Kennedy, whose performance in the classroom makes him an envious choice for any college in the nation. He has a weighted 4.37 GPA, and it would be even higher if he could take a course in analyzing how to prepare for a race.
"He created his own training program,'' Matheny said.
That's part of Kennedy's secret, but only a sliver of the equation, because he not only was insightful enough to devise a training regimen to help him avoid injuries and strengthen his endurance, but he had the fortitude and discipline to push himself daily.
"The best thing about Jacob is his work ethic,'' Matheny said. "He is just such a hard worker. He pushes himself.''
Kennedy, the son of a career Marine who grew up to embrace the concepts of discipline and integrity as well as having a passion for the humanities, fell in love with running at the age of 9, back in North Carolina, where there was no track program at his middle school. He simply ran on his own.
He had great aspirations as a high school runner at Lee County, but his high school career was riddled with injuries, so he became determined to do something about it.
A nagging knee injury hindered his times in cross country last year and a back problem sabotaged him during track season last spring, so Kennedy took things into his own hands. He took notes during his physical therapy, and then read everything he could find.
"I read articles in Running Magazine, and went online to find out why my knee was breaking down and what to do to correct the problem,'' Kennedy said. "I looked up the injury. If this is the problem, then this is what you do to solve it. I found the right aerobic and conditioning exercises to do in order to get stronger.''
He came up with his own exercise regimen that he practices religiously, and Kennedy said he has seen a dramatic difference in not only his knee -- which is stronger than ever -- but his entire body, which Kennedy said is stronger and better prepared for running.
Then he went out this fall and ran the best times of his life, breaking the course record at Bainbridge to win the Region 1-AAA title in 16:45. That wasn't close to his best time of the year. Kennedy shattered the school record at Lee County when he won the Monroe Invitational in 15:53, which was the 10th fastest time of the year in Georgia high school cross country at the time.
Two weeks later, Kennedy ran a 15:29 at the Westover Invitational on a day when the next best runner in Southwest Georgia ran a 17:01.
"He is clearly the best runner in the area,'' said Westover athletic director and cross country coach Harley Calhoun, the guru of distance running coaches in Southwest Georgia. "He's better than anyone down here.''
Matheny believes Kennedy will excel in college, because the distances are longer and Kennedy's strength is in his endurance -- and willingness to conquer any obstacle.
"He's just that hard of a worker,'' Matheny said. "He has a lot of integrity and a lot of character. His dad is a 30-year retired marine, so you know he knows a little bit about honor and integrity. He has the discipline and the self-drive.''
Kennedy has a long way to run. He has already talked to the coaches at the University of Georgia, who have a scholarship on the table if Kennedy can prove himself this spring.
"I've talked to some smaller Division 1 schools, and I've talked to Georgia,'' Kennedy said. "I've talk to the Georgia coaches and they have told me if I run a 4:25 in the mile or 9:30 in the two-mile in track that there will be a scholarship.
"Whatever happens I want to be competitive (this spring),'' Kennedy said. "I don't tell myself I have to do it. In the past I've been real hard on myself as far as goals.''
Still, he will push himself again. Kennedy is already planning on running in the Albany half marathon on March 3, and he is also planning on competing in a steeple chase in the near future.
He's always pushing, always challenging himself -- always running to his own beat, his own drum in his own way.
2011 Albany Herald All-Area boys cross country
Bryton Wenzel, Senior, Baconton Charter
Why she’s here: Runner-up for Player of the Year after he won the Region 1-A title and finished 20th in the Class A state meet with a time of 17:20.
Dale Tate, Sophomore, Worth County
Why she’s here: He won the Region 1-AAA title in a time of 17:01, and was the top local finisher in the Class AAA state meet.
Cullen Edwards, Senior, Pelham
Why she’s here: Ran near he the top of the Class A pack all season and finished second in the region 1-A meet and ran the fifth-fastest local time (18:13) at the state meet.
Guthrie Edwards, Sophomore, Pelham
Why she’s here: Finished third in the Region 1-A meet right behind his older brother and helped lead Pelham all year. He ran the sixth fastest local time in the state meet (18:19).
Jeremy Bonner, Senior, Westover
Why she’s here: He was one of the top Class AAA runners in the area, consistently finishing among the best in his class all season and running an 18:46 at state — the fourth-best time by a local runner. He had a personal best time of 17:09 in the Westover Invitational, the second local time in the meet.