Whitmer cross country runners from left David Main, Nate Cousino, and Jacob Harris on October 3. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Although he didn’t know it at the time, giving up on football after his 2014 freshman season at Whitmer would be the best decision current senior Nate Cousino could ever have made.
Not only for himself, but for the Panthers’ cross country team.
Before he got the green light to try his new sport, however, Cousino had to sell his parents on the idea. At the time, Bruce and Kristin Cousino were not exactly pleased that their son planned to quit football.
“They thought it was just a phase I was going through,” Cousino said, “ but I was persistent. I told them, ‘I really do actually want to run cross country. I don’t want to play football. This is what I want to do with my life.’
“I had to prove it to them. At first, my mother wouldn’t come out to any of the meets, so I knew I couldn’t bomb it. I had to do the best I could to be one of the best runners, so that’s what drove me.”
A little over two years later, Cousino is the best cross country runner in northwest Ohio and one of the best in the state, having lowered his personal-record time to 15 minutes, 32.5 seconds at the Cardinal Stritch Invitational Sept. 23 at Maumee Bay State Park.
That was a half second faster than his winning time on Sept. 9 at the prestigious Tiffin Carnival meet.
“In general now, I can’t say I miss it,” the 5-foot-8, 130-pound Cousino said of playing football. Although he estimates he would be 20 pounds heavier now had he kept working out for football, Cousino’s size would have likely been a barrier to any great success as a running back on the gridiron.
“The biggest thing to give up was the team aspect,” Cousino said. “There is a team aspect in cross country but, when you’re competing, you’re really only worrying about yourself in that moment.
“It was definitely a big shift having to depend more on myself. But, my performance doesn’t depend on what anybody else does.”
With Cousino serving as a role model for his teammates, Whitmer is favored to win its first league team championship in 15 years.
Coach Jeremy Elliott’s Panthers will be eyeing a Three Rivers Athletic Conference title on Oct. 14 at Walsh Park in Fremont. Whitmer’s last boys championship came in 2002 in the former Great Lakes League.
Cousino’s ascent from a slightly above average runner his sophomore year to one of the state’s best in a little more than two years, has impacted his teammates, including senior David Main and junior Jacob Harris. They are now also among the area’s top runners.
“He’s a blessing,” Elliott said of Cousino. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime runner for sure, and he definitely makes me look good as a coach. The impact that he’s having will be lasting for years and years for Whitmer.”
After Cousino finally received approval from his parents, he had very little training in advance of his sophomore cross country season. His achievements were understandably limited.
He placed 10th at the TRAC championship meet at 17:12, eighth in the Division I district meet, and 116th at regionals in 18:10.8. He wasn’t exactly on the radar of any college recruiters at that point.
But, through year-round training, Cousino made major strides last year. He won the TRAC individual title in 16:21, was second at district (16:13.64), won the regional (16:11.67), and placed 17th at the state meet (15:37.4).
Next month, Cousino, who carries a 4.2 grade-point average, will sign a letter of intent to attend the University of Pittsburgh on a cross country and track scholarship.
“At the end of my sophomore track season my mother asked me if I wanted to do cross country again,” Cousino said, “ and I said ‘Yeh, that’s exactly what I want to do.’
“When I finished the state race my junior year, I placed 17th and I hugged my mom. I told her, ‘Do you still think I should do football?’ She said [jokingly], ‘Shut up.’”
For Cousino, the path from football to cross country actually connected through the Whitmer track team his freshman year, when he emerged as a promising 800-meter specialist.
Cousino has also blossomed in that pursuit. After winning an 800-meter indoor state championship last March as a junior, he won TRAC and district titles, placed third at regionals, and was seventh at the D-I state meet in Columbus. His PR is 1:52.84.
Cousino aside, Whitmer’s chances at winning a TRAC team title would be nonexistent without the development of Main, Harris, and some other vastly improved Panthers.
Harris, a junior, has lowered his PR to 15:52.5 this season.
“It’s very important to have a runner like Nate because during workouts you have someone who’s always faster, and someone to look up to and tell you all the right things to do,” Harris said. “And, you have someone you’d like to beat the next year.
“He taught a lot of the small things, like how lifting is important, and core work, and stretching. I’ve tried to follow what he does. I’m very happy he quit football because, without him, our team wouldn’t be as strong.”
Main, a senior, has dropped his PR to 16:09.7.
“Before Nate came along, I was tied for the fastest on the team,” Main said. “Having someone to push you along, and help you improve and get better, is really big. It gives you a goal to set.”
Main stepped away from cross country his sophomore year, but returned last year.
“I was planning to come back anyway, but the promise of having somebody really good [Cousino] on the team was important in that decision.
“We all work hard, so when you see him working hard, it just makes you want to reach that.”
Typically competing for the final two spots among Whitmer’s five scoring runners are three sophomores – Noah Feudi (PR 17:03.85), Isaac Burkart (17:24.54), and Bryce Holman (17:32.07).
“He’s been an outstanding role model for our kids,” Elliott said of Cousino. “He’s been a big piece of what our team has accomplished over the last few years, and he’s going to be a big piece of what our team does in the next few years.
“He understands the value of hard work, he’s committed to year-round running, and he doesn’t cut corners. That’s rubbed off on the rest of team, down to our freshman guys. Our team is better for it.”
If Whitmer is able to win the team crown, not only will the Panthers end their own drought, they would break a 32-year Catholic-school stranglehold on boys team cross country titles spanning the City League (1985-2010) and the TRAC (2011-16).
Since public-school Rogers won a CL boys title in 1984, St. Francis de Sales has won 16 titles, St. John’s Jesuit 14, and Central Catholic two.