Portage's storied history in boys cross country largely pre-dates Anthony Best.
The last time the Indians were relevant on the state level, distance running was the furthest thing from his mind.
"I thought my future was more in basketball," Best said. "I never thought I'd be really good at it, until I tried it."
After a brief flirtation with football in seventh grade at Fegely, Best gave cross country a try in the eighth grade.
His decision may eventually help bring the Portage program back to the days of its past glories. Best won the middle school conference meet that year and qualified for state as a freshman, pacing the Indians' strong push for a team berth.
"He's a special kid, the kind of kid we've been waiting for," coach Tom Erickson said. "That entire sophomore class has been winning all the way through, with Anthony leading the charge, so they kind of figure, why not now? They know about the tradition. There's a blueprint for how to do things, and they're starting to get a little idea of where that comes from and how that success is attained."
Best has an appreciation for the past and is motivated to see those good times return.
"Coach brings it up a lot, how it used to be, how it should be," he said. "I have a lot of respect for him, running with us. I know we used to be good, winning state titles, and I want us to bring that tradition alive again."
Last year's success, tempered by the disappointment of the semistate, provides added incentive.
"When I started out, I was a lot more nervous before races," Best said. "But after the first couple races, that started to go away. I felt that everyone at the varsity level was at the highest level, and everyone was within my reach. I really enjoy how hard it is. I like challenges. I don't like stuff that comes easy to me. I'm competitive with everything I do."
A few video game controllers have felt Best's wrath, but Erickson loves the mentality.
"Whether he's on the line for the 800 or on the line for the 5,000, he's coming after you," Erickson said. "He doesn't want to lose. Ever. That's where he excels."
While Portage has strong senior leadership, Erickson still expects his younger standouts like Best to take on some of that responsibility.
"We're asking more of them, hardship-wise," he said. "We expect them to show up and work a little harder. They're more mature in their understanding that you can't just step on the line and people are going to lie down. We've got good seniors, but who's going to be here when those guys go?"
One of Best's career goals is to qualify for state all four years. Even more, he wants to go back to Terre Haute, where he finished 46th last fall, and have his teammates inside the ropes with him.
"I'm really excited," he said. "It was a good ending and I think that experience will help a lot."