ST. JOHN | Most of them don't shave yet. They just got their driver's licenses. And if they were any younger, they'd be in daycare.
Lake Central's state-bound boys cross country team has seven sophomores among its top 12 runners.
Its top five scoring individuals at the New Prairie Semistate may have been the youngest in the state.
And today, they'll run the biggest race so far in their careers at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.
As they put in their final workouts of the season this week, no one had that deer-in-the-headlights look or bit their nails.
It's unlikely any of the Indians will be doubled over a bucket today, a basket case of nerves.
"We were more nervous at semistate before we made it (out)," said sophomore Zach Hupp. "I'm excited getting to see what the state meet is all about. If we don't do as good as we expect, it's our first year going down and we have two more years.
"Other than Tyler (Kramer-Stephens), who ran for another program, no one here has seen the state course."
Lake Central placed fifth at New Prairie — only the top six teams advanced — and was led by Hupp (15th, 16:24.4) and Stephens (20th, 16:28.2)
Hupp said many of his teammates knew each other in middle school, before their running careers began, and that has only tightened the bond on varsity.
"You're not just running for yourself, you're running for your family and friends," Hupp added.
"Last year when they were all freshmen, they stood out with fast times already," said senior Daniel Gustas. "This year, they knew they'd have to be at the top and they stepped up early like juniors and seniors normally do.
"We don't have a lot of (upperclassmen), so they had to take charge. They haven't shown they're afraid of anyone, which I don't think they're gonna do the next two years when they're going down again."
Fearlessness, like pace and a good kick, is critical in cross country.
"Our packing is extremely close," Hupp said. "We're all within a minute of each other in the race."
First-year head coach Jeff Rhody, a 1988 Portage grad, saw potential over the summer but is still pleasantly surprised.
"These guys are the most workman-like team I've ever coached," Rhody said. "You think they're young, they're gonna have all these nerves, but day in and day out, they've run against the biggest competition.
"They don't get too high or too low. It's amazing, their maturity level."