Brown among top cross country runners

Across the nation, runners are preparing for the start of a new season and, frankly, they have quite an act to follow. Last year's seniors put on one of the best shows ever seen in a cross country season.

After the display by last year's seniors, you might think this year's class is weak. Fortunately, that couldn't be further from the truth. This year's race for the boys' crown will be very exciting. Here are just a few of the names to follow this season.

1. C.J. Brown, Southlake Carroll (Southlake, Texas), Senior

As amazing as it sounds, Brown was the second-best runner on his own team last year. Of course, the superior teammate was then-senior Colby Lowe, who finished fourth at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. Brown was 24th at the national meet, but his third-place showing at the Foot Locker South Regional — in a personal-best time of 15:00 — makes him one of the favorites to contend for the national title this year.

2. Bobby Nicolls, Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.), Senior

Nicolls was the fastest underclassman finisher at last year's Foot Locker nationals, but he is still the least experienced harrier of the three underclassmen who competed at the race last year. Fellow seniors Joseph Manilafasha and Evan Appel (the Class 5A defending state champ) have both raced at the Foot Locker nationals twice. Still, Nicolls may be the fastest of the talented trio.

3. Donny Roys, Medina (Medina, Ohio), Senior

After winning last year's OHSAA Division I state meet, Roys established himself as one of the nation's best underclassmen. But his 10th-place finish at the Nike Team National Championship race is what really put him on the map. Roys also had a tremendous track season, which ended with a third-place finish in the 2,000-meter steeplechase at the Nike Outdoor Nationals, and he should be a formidable competitor on the national level this season.

4. Drew Shields, Fishers (Fishers, Ind.), Senior

Shields flew under the radar for most of last season, but he improved as the postseason approached. He finished fifth at the Indiana state meet, less than 30 seconds behind then-senior and eventual national champ Michael Fout. He then followed that performance with a 16th-place finish at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional and a fourth-place finish at the Nike Team Midwest Regional.

5. Doug Smith, Gill-St. Bernard (Gladstone, N.J.), Senior

Smith narrowly missed qualifying for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships last year, finishing 15th at the Northeast Regional, just 12 seconds off the pace for the final spot. Expect him to get there this year. He also had an exceptional track season, which included a 15th-place finish at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in the 2-mile. Smith may be the fastest runner in the Northeast this year.

Here are 10 more to watch as the season progresses …

Evan Appel, Dakota Ridge (Littleton, Colo.), Senior

Solomon Haile, Sherwood (Sandy Spring, Md.), Senior

Elliot Jantzer, Phoenix (Phoenix, Ore.), Senior

Brett Johnson, Ocean City (Ocean City, N.J.), Senior

Joseph Manilafasha, Denver North (Denver), Senior

Thomas Porter, Mountain View (Stafford, Va.), Senior

Chris Schwartz, Foothill (Bakersfield, Calif.), Senior

Steve Sulkin, York (Elmhurst, Ill.), Senior

Jacob Swearingen, Potosi (Potosi, Mo.), Senior

David Wilson, Brookline (Brookline, Mass.), Senior