Beecher senior runner Grant Nykaza doesn't mind being the favorite.
While some may not want the pressure, Nykaza doesn't really think about it — he has been too busy winning races. He knows what he expects and goes out and does it better than anybody else in Class 1A.
Saturday morning at Peoria's Detweiller Park, Nykaza will run in the IHSA's Class 1A finals, a race in which he is the favorite. In fact, the last time Nykaza lost a cross country race, it was at Detweiller Park in last year's state finals. He was second to Monticello's Steve Schroeder.
Since then, Nykaza won the Class 1A 1,600-meter run state title in May, edging out Schroeder.
"I am excited and confident," Nykaza said. "I am not over confident or cocky, but I am sure of myself and I will go out and run my race. I am ready to go and there are a lot of good runners."
Nykaza won the small schools division of the prestigious New Prairie Invitational in Indiana as well as the Amboy Columbus Day Run in Sublette, a mini-state meet for small schools. He won the Bishop McNamara Irish Conditioner. The Florida State recruit said he doesn't let little things distract him.
"It's great to be in the state finals again and it is special," Nykaza said. "This is my last race as far as cross country and I want to win and maybe make history."
He would be the third Bobcat to win an individual state cross country title. Tony Fernatt was the last Beecher runner to do so when he took first in Class A in 1996. Ron Speleltich won the Class A title in 1983. The Bobcats won the team title in 2010 when his brother Griffin was a senior and Grant was a sophomore.
This year, Nykaza will be running alone as the only Beecher runner to make it to Peoria. He said that won't make a difference because his experience will guide him.
"I will run my race and not worry about being boxed in," Nykaza said. "It is different because at the starting line, I will not have my teammates there, but once you get going, I think all my training and running experience will help me and I will rely on that."
Nykaza has been a bright spot among elite runners. He is humble and loves running and loves wearing the orange and blue of Beecher High School. He knows how good he is, but will not talk about it. He prefers to let his feet do the talking.
Maybe those feet will take him to the top of the podium at Saturday's awards ceremony.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.