At Dunbar High School, the group of young men running wind sprints resembled in stature the football wide receivers who were running pass routes not far from them at Tigers Stadium.
And although two of those sprinters, Ty’Relle Powell and Marquise Outlaw, indeed were former football players, they instead have focused their efforts on another sport.
They run for the unheralded Dunbar High cross country team.
Under second-year coach Guy Thomas, these Dunbar High cross country runners have progressed from having no team score in last year’s 3D Invitational at Estero High to placing 20th out of 34 teams on Saturday.
At about 8:05 a.m. this Saturday at Veterans Community Park in Lehigh Acres, the Tigers will be at it again in the Optimist Invitational, the longest-running race of its kind in Southwest Florida.
“I wanted to be a cross country coach to help develop my track team,” said Thomas, who doubles in the spring as Dunbar’s track and field coach. “But now, I’m cross country-minded.”
Thomas has devised an unorthodox philosophy for his runners during their three-mile race: An all-out sprint for the first mile, a slower-paced, “recovery period” for the second mile concluded with another all-out final mile.
“The bottom line is, it’s a race,” Thomas said, stressing the word race. “We’re not going to be Fort Myers or Estero. We can’t compete unless we’re training to their levels. We have to have our own philosophy. The Jamaican sprint team — that’s their philosophy. Everybody’s running as fast as they can, just for three miles.”
Estero’s runners often practice twice a day, at 5 a.m. and again in the evening.
Because many of Dunbar’s runners travel to school from Lehigh Acres, Thomas said he couldn’t do an early morning session.
“That school is built on long-distance training,” Thomas said of Estero. “That’s their foundation. That’s their pride and joy.”
This year’s Dunbar runners have taken pride and joy in their efforts as well.
“It’s all strategy,” said Outlaw, a senior who quit the football team because he said he wasn’t getting enough of an opportunity on it and because he wanted to focus on running and wrestling. “We have a plan for the race.
“I actually save for the third mile, so I can finish strong.”
Outlaw ran the 3D meet in 21 minutes and 18 seconds, placing 105th out of almost 300 runners. He had the second-fastest time for Dunbar.
Powell led the Tigers with a time of 19:20 and 42nd place finish.
“It’s a different route,” Powell said of not playing football, which he did for five years. “I have more opportunities in track.”
Powell said he has been adhering to Thomas’s strategy.
“Usually everybody wants to get out and run with the pack,” Powell said. “We get out and establish ourselves.”
Following Powell and Outlaw are Trevor McDaniel, Tyrone Calloway, Harrison Auguste and Jessie Florence. Rudy Alvarez, who moved to Lehigh from Cuba, where he excelled in the high jump, clearing 6-feet, eight inches at his high school in Havana, also has joined the team.
Estero coach Jeff Sommer, whose programs have combined for eight state championships, said he admired Thomas for focusing on cross country at Dunbar, which has been known more for football.
“They have made a ton of progress,” Sommer said of Dunbar. “I can never talk about another team’s philosophy. There are a lot of ways to win races. There are a thousand ways to be successful.
“But I can tell you that they have improved 100 percent and that there’s some good coaching going on. They are working their butts off over there. He’s doing a good job. I think that’s the sign of a great coach.”
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).
IF YOU GO
• What: The Fort Myers Optimist Invitational high school cross country race
• When: 7:35 a.m. Saturday
• Where: Veterans Community Park, Lehigh Acres