Benefield: Loyalty of the Lions

El Molino cross-country runner puts sportsmanship first to help teammate on the course.|

In the heat of the SCL cross-country finals Saturday, El Molino senior Brady Lane was not expecting to see his friend and teammate Brian Schulz again.

Schulz, a blindingly fast sophomore, was out of reach at the halfway point of the race. Which makes the next part of the story so weird.

With his teammate, his friend, his archrival - in cross-country you can be all three - so far ahead, Lane was concentrating on his own race, battling his mind, trying to maintain his focus.

So when Lane, struggling just a bit with the heat but running a strong second place, came upon Schulz nearly jogging in place at an intersection in the trail about a mile from the finish, he was both surprised and not surprised a whit.

“Sometimes they call me ‘Wrong Way Schulz,’?” Schulz said.

Yup, in the biggest race in the season to date, Schulz was lost.

“He’s almost kind of skip-running, pointing to me saying, ‘Brady! Brady! Do I go this way or this way?’ I said, ‘Go left and follow the cones!’?” Lane said.

“That is just extremely hard. You just lose all of your momentum,” Lane said of stopping mid-race for any reason. “I was thinking ‘Oh gosh, this isn’t what we had planned.’?”

Schulz took his teammate’s direction and, for the second time in the race, ran out of sight of his friend. And as he ran, he took with him any chance of Lane’s winning the SCL crown in his senior season.

True, Schulz had outpaced his training partner all season and was the race favorite. But also true was the desire of a senior to go out on top.

“I have always wanted to be that No. 1 guy,” Lane said. “Watching him beat me, it’s hard. I want to be up there.”

A cynic might ask: “What was he going to do, send him in the wrong direction? Pass him and make Schulz chase?” Now that would be a killer story.

But what Lane did in the heat of battle, running at his limit and wanting a win just as much as Schulz, was epitomize sportsmanship. He knows Schulz as well as a teammate can after running countless hours together. And he knew Schulz was the faster guy Saturday. But he also understood that even the fastest guys need teammates.

Schulz and Lane have a bond you get when you push each other’s physical buttons. They run together, they challenge each other. They have to; they are the only members of El Molino’s varsity boys cross-country team.

And sometimes teammates put another ahead of self. Literally.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said El Molino cross-country coach Heather Rosales. “And Brian would have done the same thing for Brady.”

But Lane is a senior. If all things were fair and square, Lane might be the guy taking first and Schulz could own the courses his junior and senior seasons. He’s got time, right?

It’s hard not to think that way in the final days of your senior cross-country season - or in the final minutes of the league championships when you are gutting it out on the course and you see your fiercest rival in a bit of a pickle.

But Lane doesn’t. Not really. Sure, he thinks it’d be cool to be on top of the podium, but he is genuine in his praise of Schulz’s talent and appreciative of their friendship built over workouts and training runs.

So, alone on the course, out of sight of fans or referees or coaches, Brady Lane sent his fiercest competitor down the path to victory.

In a million years, he wouldn’t have done it any differently. Heck, with Wrong Way Schulz on the trail, he nearly expected it.

“I even took him over there the day before so something like that wouldn’t happen, but he has always kind of been like that with courses,” he said.

And even with a stoppage in his run that killed his momentum, Schulz still put 16 seconds on Lane in the final mile to become El Molino’s first boys champion since 1988. His time? 15:57 - his season best.

It’s hard to argue who was the stronger runner that day.

“He’s such a good racer. He kind of blew me away,” Lane said. “He kind of kicks into another gear.”

You know what he also said? The guy who wanted the win just as badly? The guy who is painfully near the end of his prep running career?

“I was glad I was there to help him,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or and on Twitter @benefield.

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