American record-holder Alan Webb was high school running’s bridge from the legendary Jim Ryun into the 21st Century. Now, Drew Hunter is in the driver’s seat. The Loudoun Valley High (Purcellville, Va.) senior was today named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. And Webb, a native Virginian who still holds the U.S. men’s mile mark, showed up to hand Hunter the trophy.
“I’m really caught off guard here,” said Hunter, 18, an Oregon signee. “You work really hard for stuff like this, but it’s still surprising when you’re recognized at this level. It’s always a goal, but when you when you see the names of past winners on this trophy, it’s special to see your name there too.”
A two-time Gatorade Virginia Runner of the Year, the 5-foot-11, 140-pound Hunter won the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships this past season with a time of 14:55.7, breaking the tape 12.2 seconds ahead of his closest competitor. Hunter was unbeaten at 5K in 2015 and clocked a 15:04 to win the Group 4A state title by 56 seconds, leading the Vikings to the state championship as a team.
As part of a remarkable string of record-setting indoor performances this winter, he broke the national high school record in the mile for a second time this past weekend, crossing the line in 3:57.81 at Manhattan’s Millrose Games. Earlier this month, he broke the prior record, set by Webb, with a 3:58.25. Hunter has lowered the prep mile mark by more than two seconds in a span of 14 days.
“I have fond memories of this award personally, so it’s an honor to remain a part of it,” said Webb, 33, who earned Gatorade national track honors for South Lakes (Reston) in 2000-01 when he eclipsed former world-record holder Ryun’s 1965 prep record with a 3:53.43 mile outdoors as a high school senior. “I love that the award recognizes stuff that matters like academics and character. Drew’s parents coached me in high school, so I guess it’s poetic that I’m part of the story and to see him do things I couldn’t.”
Hunter’s final prep campaign indoors has been electrifying. Last month, he set the American high school record in the 3000, clocking a 7:59.33 en route to a fifth-place finish amidst a field of collegians and professionals. The sub-eight time broke a three-year-old standard of 8:05.46 set by 2012-13 Gatorade National Runner of the Year Edward Cheserek (St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.). Before pushing the high school mile record below 3:58 against another field of college and pro racers to finish fourth at Millrose, the teen began this month with a sizzling 3:58.25 at The Armory Track Invitational in New York. Hunter was the only high school competitor in that race, and his seventh-place time broke the prior prep record of 3:59.86, set by Webb. Hunter and Webb are the only high school runners in history to break four minutes in the indoor mile. Hunter has joined Webb and Ryun as the only American high schoolers to clock a sub-3:58 over the distance.
Hunter is a three-time state cross country champion, a two-time Foot Locker South Regional title-winner and a two-time All-American in the sport. He set a course record in winning the 2015 Foot Locker South Regional championships with a time of a 14:26. He also owns three state track crowns and won a national indoor championship in the 2-mile as a junior. Hunter will enter his final outdoor campaign having already captured three silver medals—one each in the 1500, the mile and the 2-mile—at national title meets. Two years ago, he set a national sophomore record in the 3000 (8:16.31).
“An exceptional pedigree, smart coaching and big-time talent make Drew Hunter not only the best distance runner of the 2016 class, but one of the all-time greats,” said DyeStat.com Editor-in-Chief Doug Binder. “His improvement from fourth to first at the Foot Locker national finals showed an extra degree of maturity and poise. He handled himself as if there was no pressure even while the target was squarely on him, and he was in command from start to finish of the national championship race.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the racecourse. Hunter is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Hunter has maintained an unweighted 4.01 GPA in the classroom. In addition to donating his time as a youth basketball coach, he has volunteered locally as a mentor at his church, where he has instructed younger parishioners in basic theology. He also serves as the student teaching assistant at Loudoun Valley High’s Career Center.
Hunter is one of nine children, five of whom are adopted. His father, Marc Hunter, was a two-time NCAA Cross Country All-American at Cleveland State, while his mother, Joan (née Humphries), was a two-time Virginia state track champion in high school.
Hunter becomes the 12th athlete from Virginia to earn national Gatorade honors in any sport, and the first in cross country. He joins Webb, who still owns the fastest American mile in history (3:46.91—2007), but has retired from distance running to chase a berth in the 2016 Rio Games as a triathlete. Other past national winners from the Old Dominion State include seven-time NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning of Indian River (1987-88) and Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton of Great Bridge (2004-05).
The state of Virginia has produced more national Gatorade winners across the program’s 12 sports than all but five states. Only California (65), Texas (30), Florida (21), Illinois (15) and Indiana (13) own more.