ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — We’ve all had to adapt to changes in our lives this year. For some high school football players that’s meant taking up a new sport. Some football players for Durand-Pecatonica are now part of the DuPec Cross Country team and they’re doing very well.
Last fall DuPec put together it’s best football season since the two schools formed a co-op. The Rivermen went 7-4 and reached the second round of the playoffs before losing to Byron. Playing key roles on that football team were Tre Burfield-Stifter, Liam Hamond, Tyler Kormoczy and Drake Fortson. Their expectations were they’d be helping DuPec football do even bigger things this fall.
Instead they’re helping DuPec’s cross country team achieve success like never before.
“These kids, they just run with a lot of heart,” said head cross country coach Marty Contreras. “They get along with their teammates. It’s just amazing to seem them do this.”
Recently DuPec had a perfect week winning meets at Genoa, and Eastland and a meet at the Fuller Forest Preserve that also included Winnebago, Rockford Lutheran, and Stockton. One of those football players led the way in that meet for DuPec, Hammond finished in third place overall. This is his second year running cross country. He competed in both cross country and football last fall. So did Kormoczy.
“We went to football Monday through Friday and played our games Friday, and then Saturday morning we’d come and run for cross country meets,” said Hammond.
So this year Hammond recruited two more of his football teammates Burfield-Stifter and Fortson to come out for cross country.
“It took a little convincing,” said Hammond. “At first they were like, ‘Ehh.’ I was like, ‘Come on football’s not in the fall. You might as well just come do it.’ They’re out here doing great with us.”
“What made me decide to do cross country is that it’s going to help for football in the long run,” said Burfield-Stifer. “Football got pushed to the spring, so I decided I might as well do cross country to work on stamina and endurance for the football season.”
“I wasn’t going to do it for a while and then Liam convinced me to do it,” said Fortson. “It was going to be only golf, but then Liam comvinced me to do it. Now I love it!”
Fortson and Burfield-Stifter also compete in track in the spring. They specialize in the 400 and the relays not distance running, so like most people who take up distance running for the first time they had to learn how to pace themselves.
“Before this I never knew how to pace,” said Fortson. “I’ve always just been 100 percent everywhere I’ve run. This is just so different.”
“I told them, ‘Hey guys this is nothing like the sprints you’re used to,” said Hammond. “They both run track. ‘This is nothing like the sprints you’re used to.’ They’re like, ‘Oh yea, for sure.’ Then first practice here they go, they just take off right away and it’s like…’Told ya.”
So has there been any point during this cross country season when Burfield-Stifter ever questioned himself for going out for the cross country team?
“Every practice and every meet,” said Burfield-Stifter with a smile. “I always think why did I end up doing this? This is crazy. I’m not good at this, but then I ended up realizing this is only going to help me in the long run. Plus I have good teammates that support me.”
It turns out Burfield-Stifter is very good at cross country. In that meet at Fuller Forest Preserve he finished in fifth place overall as DuPec’s number two runner.
Fortson had a strong 10th place finish. Combine that with Hammand’s third place finish and that put three DuPec football players in the top ten.
“The myth is they’re football players and they can’t run,” said Contreras. “But I don’t consider them football players. I consider them athletes.”
“I had no idea I was going to do this good,” said Fortson.
The football players on the team have had to make some adjustments to keep up with their football contact days and conditioning, but Contreras says they have the full support from head football coach Tyler Hoffman.
“He was the one who actually came to me and said, ‘You know we just found out we don’t have a football season. I don’t know how big your roster is, but would it be alright if some of our guys joined?’ and I said absolutely.”
“He really supports us,” says Hammond. “He understands…like today there was a football and cross country conflict and he was like, ‘You know guys go run cross country. You have a meet today.’ It’s super nice having two coaches on both ends that support us.”
NOTE: As of Friday night DuPec had won a school record five consecutive boys cross country meets. Other top runners on DuPec’s cross country team are Jaden Gocken, Braydyn Windnagle, Antonio Suarez and Evan Folk.