GREENFIELD — With three laps left to go still in the mile race, Clayton Brumfield already had hit his burst of speed.

Cole Cochard, Brumfield’s childhood best friend, cheered him on from the crowd, but he feared his pal had kicked it into high gear early. Cochard held his breath as he watched Brumfield pull ahead of his opponents, waiting for the moment his friend would spend it all too soon and fall behind. But that time never came.

Brumfield sprinted to claim first place, sailing past the finish line in 4 minutes and 25 seconds, successfully defending his title at the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference indoor conference for Franklin College’s track team.

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“Man, that kid just kept going and going, and he blew it out of the water,” Cochard said.

The Eastern Hancock High School graduate has worked on the story of his career all season. For the second year in a row, Brumfield also finished in eighth place at the HCAC Championships for Franklin College’s men’s cross-country team. The Grizzlies closed out at the Great Lakes Regional championship this past November, where Brumfield placed 44th overall with a time of 26:38.4, his career record for an 8K race. He now holds the 15th-fastest 8K time in program history, according to a news release on the college’s website.

Brumfield’s running career began on accident, he said. He joined the track his sophomore year at Eastern Hancock as a way to stay in shape for football. After winning all-conference one year in the 4×800, several invitationals and making it to regionals his senior year in the 800, Brumfield quickly found he had a talent for distance running — a talent that continues to refine in college.

Now, as a sophomore studying business marketing and management, Brumfield runs both track and cross country, competing in 5K and 8K races regularly.

Balancing track, cross-country and school work is a challenge he embraces; it’s all part of training to be the best at what he does.

“It’s a sport that you can really make your own,” Brumfield said. “Your times are your times. You run fast or you don’t.”

Brandon Dworak, Franklin College’s head cross-country coach and assistant track and field coach, said the Hancock County native is making a name for himself as a collegiate athlete. In two years, Brumfield quickly became a runner that the rest of the team looks up to; his peers look to him as a team leader due to his focused work ethic, Dworak said.

While preparing for an upcoming meet, Dworak can count on Brumfield to get down to business during every moment of training, Dworak said. Brumfield is one of the most lead-by-example” athletes he’s met in his coaching career.

Brumfield had the same champion’s heart as a high school athlete, Cochard said. Growing up together, the duo played football and ran track together; Cochard remembers how Brumfield would take the rest of the long distance runners on warmup jogs without being prompted by their coach.

Cochard said he considered his friend the face of the distance team at Eastern Hancock. Brumfield typically excelled in the mile, the 800, the 4×400 relay and even the occasional two-miler, so their coach frequently let him lead team workouts.

Cochard is not surprised by his friend’s continued athletics success after graduating high school.

“He was always a take charge and go get it kind of guy,” Cochard said. “His entire life, he’s been focused on what he wants to do, as far as his goals, his track.”

Next year, Brumfield has his eyes set on shooting for 15:30 in the 5K race and close to four minutes flat in the mile; goals which are certainly attainable with his drive and momentum, Dworak said.

“He works his butt off behind the scenes,” Dworak said. “He gets after it in the weight room and every day whenever we open run.”

Brumfield said he’s always ready to zero in on his goals, because individually that’s all there is to it. You run fast, or you don’t.

Where are they now?

In this series, the Daily Reporter checks in with some of the county’s athletic greats from over the years. Have an athlete you’d like to see profiled? Send us a note at dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.

About the athlete

Name: Clayton Brumfield

Age: 19

Graduate: Eastern Hancock Class of 2016

Sport: Track/cross country

High school highlights: Won the 800 meter at conference his senior year. Holds two school records, with a 2-mile time of 9:59 and an 800-meter time of 1:58.

Where he is now: Franklin College. Just defended his title at the HCAC conference championship for the second year in a row. Now holds the 15th-fastest 8k time in program history.

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Evan Myers is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3228 or emyers@greenfieldreporter.com.