Given the choice of jamming at Wembley Stadium or winning a state title, Ari Coulopoulos doesn't hesitate in his answer.
The Valparaiso senior would be grabbing his guitar, in a heartbeat.
"Music is up top," Coulopoulos said. "I want to get a job in the business. A lot of times, I just wish I could stop, take my guitar and amp, and go play music the rest of my life. At the same time, I have a big commitment to running, to the running community. I have God-given talent and I don't want to throw it away."
Part of a musically-inclined family, Coulopoulos started strumming the strings in sixth grade. A few years ago, he became part of a band, Powerchild. He plays guitar and does lead vocals for the rock group, which has had shows in Valpo. Also a talented artist, Coulopoulos enjoys writing music as well.
"In season, running is first. Out of season, music is first," he said. "I don't care what people think."
Right now, Coulopoulos is leading another band. He's the sole runner back from the Valpo lineup at last year's state meet, where he finished 15th.
"He's got a lot of experience, watching all the guys," coach Mike Prow said. "He's seen the good, bad and ugly of it. He was buddies with all the old guys and now he's the old guy. I don't want to really call it Ari's team -- they all want to be leaders -- but he's got to be our No. 1, especially in big meets. He has to do a little growing in all different areas, and he's improved in every aspect."
That includes training, where Coulopoulos' history isn't stellar, making him a hot button for debate among some runners.
"He's running harder in practice," Prow said. "He's able to do all the long runs. He's staying in there, challenging. On hills, he's leading toward the end. All you can ask for of a kid is to try to improve, and that's what he's doing."
Despite the state finish, 2012 wasn't what Coulopoulos envisioned. After being the top freshman at state in 2010 and the top sophomore in '11, he didn't set a personal best last year.
"It was really tough," he said. "There was a lot of garbage going around. A lot of heads weren't in the right spots. There were times I didn't even care and it affected my running. I was lazy. I was hard on myself. People were hard on me. The fun died out."
Making amends isn't necessarily the spark for Coulopoulos' renewed outlook. Having freshman brother Theran as a teammate who looks up to him is certainly a factor. The biggest incentive is getting the most out of himself and the team.
"It's a new group of guys, but the goal is the same," Coulopoulos said. "Before the season started, I had no idea who I was going to hang out with. I said all my goodbyes and those guys went off to college. I've gotten pretty close to a lot of the guys. The coolest part is we're all seniors, so there's an urgency to our goals. I've been up front since my freshman year, so I don't feel a whole lot of extra pressure."
For all of Prow's accolades, he's never had an individual champion. His best state finisher took fourth. Valpo's only state champ was Dan Vandrey, who won in 1966, at a distance of 4K.
"As a coach, you dream of maybe being lucky enough to have a kid be one of the top finishers of all time," Prow said. "Ari has the talent, for sure. He's got a good set of lungs, a good system. He might lack a little speed some guys have, but his strong point is sustaining the same steady pace and being up front. All you can ask for is to have a shot at the end of the race."
That chance has served as the fuel to drive Coulopoulos in the sport.
"My favorite part, other than being around these guys, is winning," he said. "If I wasn't winning or the team wasn't winning, I wouldn't want to be here. I've always thought it would be awesome to be Valpo's first runner to win state at 5K."