GREENFIELD — Conner Kinnaman came to the Greenfield-Central Cougars cross-country program looking up to its top runner. He leaves with his teammates looking up to him.
Kinnaman is the Daily Reporter 2019 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
He was the county’s top runner at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet (second), Mt. Vernon Sectional (sixth), Rushville Regional (11th) and Shelbyville Semistate (61st). He was also second in the Hancock County Meet. He bounced back from what he called a disappointing performance at county by winning the Delta Invitational, just four days later.
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At Greenfield-Central, he was more than just the top runner on the team.
“He is definitely talented and he does things the right way,” Greenfield-Central boys cross country coach Aaron Smith said. “From his sophomore year on, he’s been our main go-to-guy.
“More important than running, he has strong character. He has bought in as a servant leader (to the program).”
He was more than just a go-to-guy on the course. Kinnaman’s teammates follow him more than just because he’s the fastest runner.
There’s no entitlement in the Cougar cross country program. For example, Kinnaman sets up the tents at the big meets, but he does it with a teaching method so the underclassmen will know how to do things after he leaves.
It was the way he was taught when he came to Greenfield-Central. He’s passing his leadership skills on as they were passed to him.
When he was a freshman, Jacob Hansen was a senior. Hansen won individual titles in the sectional and regional in 2016.
“I looked up to him from when I was in junior high,” Kinnaman said. “He was a mentor and friend and as our team captain I was able to see the impact he had on the team.”
At the recent Cougars team banquet, Kinnaman found out the underclassmen at Greenfield-Central feel the same about him.
“The rest of the team look up to me like I did Jacob when I was a freshman. It was really cool (to hear that) and touching, as well.
“There was a lot of emotion. We’re all close. We’re a family of brothers. We raise each other and encourage each other, and we even make fun of each other.”
When asked by coach Smith to make three goals for the season, Kinnaman had getting to semistate or farther, beating certain past times and bringing up the next leader to replace him. He said both Luke Muckerheide and Gage Guenin are top candidates to take the reigns.
While his high school cross-country career ends, Kinnaman plans on continuing his leadership, even if it doesn’t equate to running in college.
It is something he has always wanted to do. His uncle, Eric Kinnaman, is a Navy CMCPO (Command Master Chief Petty Officer).
“He has always been a huge role model. I’ve looked up to him and his leadership style,” Conner said.”
No. 2 in his class academically at Greenfield-Central, Conner Kinnaman has completed his application to the U.S. Naval Academy. If he is accepted, he will likely continue running in college. He also has interest in Notre Dame and Indiana University, where he said, “They are elite running teams. I’d be lucky to walk-on.”
As you might expect, the high-ranking Cougars harrier has big plans. He wants to study Aeronautical Engineering as an undergrad and then apply for medical school afterwards. He would like to be a cardiothoracic surgeon for children.
“I’ve been raised to seek that leadership challenge and find a challenge in everything I do,” the Cougar senior said. “It’s like third nature, a sixth sense. When there are opportunities where people need help, I feel comfortable that I can take the helm on that.
“Leaders seek challenges, seek to be better and seek to make those around them better.”
At Greenfield-Central, Conner Kinnaman wasn’t just the leader of the running pack, he led on and off the course and plans on continuing that same path.