About a month ago, Marlon Williams was a nomad on the Chesterton boys track team, a runner without a home bouncing from event to event.
Now he's a state champion heading to Greensboro, N.C., with distance coach Tim Ray and 3,200 relay teammates Kevin Kenney, Billy Biehl and Tyler Vore for the New Balance Nationals.
Crazy how fast things can change.
"I'm pretty happy to be that person to help out the guys," said Williams, a fill-in for the event last year. "They've worked hard the entire season, and I would have been feeling bad if I was the one to mess it up for everybody."
Kenney, Biehl and Vore returned from last year's state runner-up foursome. Winning the title became the clear goal, but replacing Nick Barango was not an easy process after the projected fourth runner was suspended.
"I'm pretty sure we all had some doubt in out mind," Vore said.
Ray wondered himself, after what happened in the fall, when Biehl suffered facial fractures in a soccer match, Vore broke his leg on a run and Kenney was diagnosed with mononucleosis all in the span of a few weeks.
"It was like the karma was gone," Ray said.
Then came the Duneland Athletic Conference meet, where Williams was thrown into the mix almost as a last resort.
"Marlon really fit in well with all of them," Ray said. "It's been just a month, but he's worked extremely hard to get into position to help us. Any team's got to gel, and to see them spend the extra time together and have success at the end, from the expectations in the preseason and ... the fallout, it's pretty neat."
Chesterton laid back in the sectional, finishing third without its 'A' lineup, then clicked in the regional, posting the third-best time in the state.
"... And we didn't really have a good day," Kenney said. "We knew if we really had a good day, we could do it. We didn't really click until state."
The stunning part of the win was the 3.29-second margin, and it wasn't really even that close. Biehl gave Vore the baton for the anchor leg with a margin of about seven seconds.
"I didn't think there would be that much of a gap," Vore said. "They did all the work for me. I just had to bring it home."
The time of 7:44.87 qualified Chesterton for the national meet Saturday at North Carolina A&T. They were unable to go last year with Barango headed to college and Biehl with a soccer commitment.
"I'm excited," Biehl said. "It'll be fun to run one last race together with the guys."
Williams was the only Trojan to run a personal best at state, so Ray thinks a 7:40 and a top-10 finish isn't out of the question. Top six attains all-American status.
"It's easier to run with people around you," Ray said. "You get the competitive juices going. It's more mental than anything else. There's nothing you can really do all of a sudden to make them faster. They're coming off a huge high. It's a tough task to refocus, to get the hunger back, to be successful, not just on the state stage but the national stage."
The group leaves today for The Tar Heel State.
"It'll be a great experience. How many people can say they've been to nationals?" Kenney said. "I've never been to North Carolina."
They all agree they want to make the long drive worth the time.
"I don't want to drive that far just for the sake of it," Williams said. "I want to get top six."