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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
<p>UF's Eddie Garcia (middle) leads the pack during the 2015 Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville.</p>

UF's Eddie Garcia (middle) leads the pack during the 2015 Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville.

"Next Man Up."

It’s incredible how three simple words can carry so much weight.

It serves as a call to action, to knuckle-up and step up to the occasion.

We’ve heard head football coach Jim McElwain spit that trisyllabic burst, punctuating press conferences throughout his inaugural campaign at the helm of the Florida Gators’ gridiron squad.

Forced to field a lineup ravaged by injury, the Missoula, Montana, native has refused to bow to the temptation of creating excuses, espousing the belief that — through proper preparation — any athlete can take on the mantle of a starting position.

What you may not know, however, is that mere minutes before Florida’s football coach takes the lectern, Paul Spangler appears, a man charged with leading a group of athletes firmly set on implementing the same notion.

However, injuries aren’t the issue — time is.

"Next Man Up."

For the University of Florida’s talented cross country runners that remain on the team following the departure of the upper classmen, this saying will prove crucial in the pursuit of success.

 

• • •

Among all the attributes that lend themselves to the creation of a stud athlete, skill is the most forceful.

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And, if talent is the thunder — the booming clap, the rolling echo that’s heard throughout the world — work ethic is the lightning that zaps the process into full gear.

On the men’s side, the redshirt senior triplet of Jimmy Clark, Eddie Garcia and Charles Chambers have lit up the terrain.

Since arriving on UF’s campus in the Fall of 2011, the Jacksonville-based pairing of Clark and Garcia has turned in some of the most impressive outings in the history of the cross country program.

Combining for a total of two Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team selections, five All-SEC First Team bids and seven USTFCCCA All-South Region laurels, the twosome has carved its way into the record books, with Clark clocking the 10th-fastest 8- and 10k runs in team history.

Although Chambers — a graduate student transfer from Gold Coast, Australia — is in his first and final season at UF, he’s been more than just a serviceable runner for Spangler.

The former star of the Australian circuit aided in the Gators’ season-opening victory at the Covered Bridge Open, finishing sixth in the 6,400 meter event.

Later on, Chambers set a collegiate best 8k split of 24:57.8 in College Station, Texas, finishing 55th in a deep SEC Championship field.

While the women’s team has the luxury of not losing any runners to graduation, they do possess a dynamic duo of their own in redshirt sophomore Becky Greene and junior Taylor Tubbs.

Owners of the fourth and sixth-fastest 5ks ran on the Mark Bostic Golf Course, the two have accounted for four top-10 finishes during the 2015 campaign, a season marked by illness and injury for both Greene — a product of Dunedin, New Zealand — and Sebring, Florida, native Tubbs.

This comes in the wake of a stellar 2014 season for the pairing, where a Tubbs victory at the Western Carolina Invitational highlighted a combined three top-three and seven top-25 results.

Adding some polish to their burgeoning resumes, both Greene and Tubbs were selected to the 2014 USTFCCCA All-South Region team, validating a pair of skill sets that have yet to reach their full potential.

• • •

There’s something to be said about influence.

A trait found in the greatest of leaders, that moxie can propel a team from good to great, if leveraged in the proper manner.

Speak to the athletes who have competed alongside Jimmy, Eddie, Charles, Becky and Taylor, and their positive influence becomes evident.

"I just look up to them, because, I mean, they’re basically the definition of hard work," freshman Jack Guyton said.

"I get to work out with them every day and see what they do every single day, and they just show dedication to the sport of running, and it really carries over to what I do every day."

Says freshman Seamus Love: "They’re really down to earth and they’re just really helpful guys. … They understand where we’re coming from and I think that helps a lot, because they’re really personable and relatable."

Freshman Maddox Patterson touched on the team-building efforts made by Taylor and Becky early on in the year, pointing to an outing at Payne’s Prairie as the marquee example of the team-first style of leadership they bring to the group.

"It was nice because we didn’t all really know each other very well," Patterson said. "Taylor and Becky … they all just made a really good effort to help us bond and to become the team we are now.

"I’m just really thankful that I have people to look up to like them. They always go out of their way to invite us to do things, and give us advice whenever it’s needed."

Much like their counterparts on the men’s team, though, Becky, Taylor and the rest of the upperclassmen exercise their leadership during training sessions.

"When we go for distance runs, the girls, we talk together and they show us new things," freshman sensation Maria Larsen said.

"And we discuss first-year things like studying in college and how to keep up with classes and things like that. … But, that’s what kind of calms me down when I struggled with small things throughout the day."

What really rubbed off on the underclassmen, however, was the fraternal sense they managed to cultivate, not only throughout the team but also amongst themselves.

"Yeah, I see their chemistry," Guyton said of Clark and Garcia. "Jimmy and Eddie, I mean, they’ve lived together for three or four years, and to see their chemistry, they’re kind of like brothers.

"They know what to say at the right time, and, I just kind of learned from them how I’m able to do that with my fellow freshmen teammates."

On how Greene and Tubbs helped her through the dog days of the season, Patterson offered: "Just to have Taylor and Becky’s … positivity there even when you know that they’re tired as well, but they still make sure to motivate us, stay positive even for the last few workouts and stuff when everybody’s tired."

"I couldn’t ask for a more supportive or better group of girls to run with daily."

 

• • •

Time never stops.

There is no pause button, no rewind.

Time is a movie production, and memory is its film, its only point of reference.

With the impending departures of Clark, Garcia and Chambers, the void of talent left at the top of the men’s depth chart is undeniable.

"I think, obviously Jimmy and Eddie have accomplished so much that it’s hard to replace how fast they ran, and it’s hard to replace the leadership that they had," Love said.

However, their legacy remains, serving as a guiding light to the underclassmen who aim to fill the residual darkness with speed.

Per Love’s account, generating new speed and leadership will boil down to a complete team effort, with the lessons imparted by Clark, Garcia and the like distilled to their most potent form.

"You know, there’s no one I can really pinpoint specifically," Love said when asked about who he suspects will emerge as a team leader next year.

"But I think between me and all the other guys who travelled to SEC’s this year and went to Pre-Nationals this year and got the experience, I think it’s just going to be on us collectively to lead the team.

"Obviously, Jimmy and Eddie are so good and they have the results with them … so I think it’s just going to be on us all as a group to come together and lead."

Coming together: Isn’t that the spirit of the thing? What the upperclassmen hammered into the minds of their teammates, going out of their way to make them feel at home?

"We definitely needed an upperclassman or two there," Patterson observed.

"All the upperclassmen do a great job of just supporting us and keeping us motivated."

With time rolling on and the sunset of a handful of bright careers upon them, the onus is officially on the underclassmen to continue the legacy of leading by example, of hard work, of togetherness, of positive influence.

The catch is managing the feat against two opponents: their competition and time itself.

But, as Lao Tzu — a Chinese philosopher — once put it, "Time is a created thing.

"To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’"

 Follow Alejandro López on Twitter @ajlb95

UF's Eddie Garcia (middle) leads the pack during the 2015 Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville.

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