DOLTON | Until this fall, to Marquise Wells the sport of running meant going in circles.
The Thornridge senior has since discovered, though, that he can also run rings around much of the competition on a three-mile course.
Cross country wasn't on Wells' radar during his first three years of high school. Track in the spring was fine, but autumn meant football, and Wells' exposure to cross country was confined to periodic glimpses of others participating in the sport.
"I would just stare at them while they were running and wonder, 'Where is this coming from?'" Wells recalled with a smile. "My freshman year, I was like, 'How are they doing this?' And now I'm one of them."
Falcons cross country coach Derek Augustynowicz, knowing Wells was a pretty accomplished athlete in track's 800 and 1,600 events, sought to have him give fall running a try. Helping Augustynowicz in his quest was the presence of Mika'il McCall in Thornridge's football backfield.
"Being stuck behind a Michigan State recruit, when you're built like (Wells), it doesn't exactly convince you that football is the way to go," Augustynowicz joked. "I think he just realized this was a smart move. A lot of the kids he was losing to in the mile in track, he realized they were all doing cross country."
Wells' official introduction to the longer race came at Tinley Park's Turtlehead Lake, where the Falcons took part in the SouthWest Suburban Conference pre-meet at the end of August. Wearing regular gym shoes, Wells clocked in at 17 minutes, 20 seconds and landed in the top 20.
"That was kind of an eye-opener," Augustynowicz said. "I was thinking maybe (he'd run) somewhere in the 18s, but to run low 17s at that meet ... that was the place to be."
Augustynowicz wasn't the only one who was caught off-guard by Wells' showing.
"A couple people from other schools, I told them my time and they didn't know how I did it," Wells said. "I told them this was my first time running and they're like, 'You did that in flats?' They said that was good."
Wells has gotten even better. His best time to date is a 16:43, an effort he missed equaling by just four seconds in last Saturday's Jimmy Daniels Invitational at Rich Central. That made Wells the No. 10 finisher and positioned him nicely for today's SWSC Red meet, which brings Wells and Thornridge back to Turtlehead.
"He's not afraid to go out hard, and I think that's helped him," Augustynowicz said. "From the very first race he ran this year, he went out with those front-runners and kind of figured, 'Let's see how long we can stay there.' (He wanted) to see exactly where that limit was and work from there, and it's worked out pretty well for him."
"I know what people are thinking every time when I cross the finish line -- 1-2-3, then who's this coming in? Top 10 from Thornridge?" Wells said. "I think it just comes from how hard I work in practice. I work to the point where I think in my mind that there's nobody at any other school practicing as hard as me.
"I feel like my wind and my lungs are getting stronger, and my times are getting faster. I didn't know I was going to be this good for cross country. Sometimes I think, 'What if I would have done this since my freshman year?'"
Augustynowicz has his own theory on that.
"To be honest," he said with a chuckle, "I think it'd be scary if he'd done it all four years."