Just before the start of a boys cross country race involving Westerville Central High School, a Warhawks' runner might be bopping his head or rapping just before the gun goes off.

Just before the start of a boys cross country race involving Westerville Central High School, a Warhawks' runner might be bopping his head or rapping just before the gun goes off.

There's also a good chance that the same runner might be first across the finish line.

Over the past month, junior Brandon Shirey has emerged as one of the area's top distance runners and is one of the biggest reasons the Warhawks have a realistic shot at earning their first berth to the Division I state meet.

Shirey also is one of the team's leaders and has become an expert at keeping his teammates loose before races.

"I think Brandon has established himself as one of the premiere runners in the area," Central coach Jason Loughman said.

Last track season, Shirey advanced to the Division I regional in the 3,200 meters where he finished 12th. In the offseason, he took a new approach to his workouts, which could be best described as "more dedicated" as he increased his mileage and did not skip any days.

"(In the past) I would probably take a day off every other day or maybe not run as far or as hard," Shirey said. "Last summer, I put in the time."

The result of that hard work was evident Sept. 11 at the Tiffin Cross Country Carnival, one of the region's largest and most competitive races. Shirey finished 29th in 16 minutes, 13 seconds to break the school record by 11 seconds.

Last Saturday he won the Otterbein Invitational in 16:13 on what is considered a slow course.

"He's just getting better and beating more people each week," Loughman said.

Loughman referred to Shirey as a "great kid with a great sense of humor."

Shirey is quick to poke lighthearted fun at a teammate and rarely gets tight before races.

That carefree personality has led Shirey to singing on the starting line moments before a race. While it may sound silly, Loughman said Shirey's antics helps some of his teammates.

"Sometimes athletes get nervous," Loughman said. "Before races he's a good little ice-breaker."

Shirey is a younger runner in that he has only been serious about the sport for the past few years. Loughman thinks that means he still has a lot of unrealized potential.

"As soon as he makes that dip into the 15s, that's when he'll open up some doors," he said. "Colleges are already starting to notice him, but once he gets under 16, that's when he'll really start having to make some decisions."

Not one to dwell on the past, Shirey said almost as soon as he realized he had broken the school record he was on to bigger and better things. He saw the time count down to 16:13 and almost instantly thought about the weeks ahead.

"Obviously I was excited," he said. "But I was like, 'Now what can I do next week?' The school record is awesome, but it's more of a personal thing."

Shirey's No. 1 goal is for Central to qualify for the state meet as a team.

But since Central has never had representation of any kind at the state meet, Shirey qualifying an individual also would be something special for the program.

A year ago, he finished 26th at the regional in 18:11.21. The top 16 advanced to state.

"I look at the region and the competition and the guys who have graduated and I think it's in me," Shirey said. "If I show up on the day of the race I'll be there."


At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Central, North and South cross country teams:

CENTRAL

Last Saturday - Boys: Won (51) the 6-team Otterbein Invitational ahead of runner-up Olentangy Liberty (53). Brandon Shirey (16:15) finished 5th, followed by Josh Edens (16:38) in fourth and Dan Steigerwald (16:58) in ninth; Girls: Finished second (51) behind champion Dublin Jerome (33) in the 4-team Otterbein Invitational. Sara O'Brien (20:34) placed ninth and Natalie Pinney (20:49) was 11th.

Saturday - Midwest Meet of Champions at Hilliard Darby

NORTH

Last Saturday - Boys: Won (64) the in the 16-team Bob Real Cross Country Invitational ahead of runner-up Dublin Coffman (84). Brian Hannaford won the race with a time of 15:55. Jeff Hannaford (16:08) was second and Ryan Weldon (16:49) was 10th; Girls: Finished 6th (141) behind champion Upper Arlington (48) in the 12-team Bob Real Invitational. Meghan Maurer (21:15) was 15th.

Saturday - Pickerington North Panther Cross Country Invitational

SOUTH

Last Saturday - Boys: Finished eighth (208) at the Bob Real Invitational. Adam Kendrick (17:21) was 23rd, followed by Matt Hay (17:55) in 39th and Benson Jung (18:08) in 44th; Girls: Finished ninth (260) at the Bob Real Invitational. Jenna Fudale (22:51) finished 47th and Lily Davenport (23:09) finished 51st.

Saturday - Erin L. Nance Fall Distance Classic at London