Freshman CJ Naper finds ease in transition to college cross country

By Dave Robertson

The last thing anyone expected was to witness a bright smiling freshman face cross the finish line before the rest of his team at Shenandoah University’s home meet on September 7.

For first year student and physics major CJ Naper, nothing has really changed from high school except the field of competitors and the racing distance.

Placing third in his first college meet, hosted by Shenandoah University, he set the bar high for success.

At McDaniel College’s home meet, he ran only three seconds short of his best high school 5K time, finishing 11th at 16:45.

“This season was supposed to be just a transition from the 5 to 8K,” said Naper.

Clearly, he took easily to the change in distance and (no pun intended) ran with it.

A “local,” as most students on campus would label him, Naper began running track in 9th grade and cross-country in 10th.

For each season of competition, he earned a varsity letter and culminated his high school career with an 8th place finish at the division 2A Maryland State Cross-Country Meet in the fall of 2006.

He remembers back to third grade when Coach Renner made him run a local race with his peers in which he placed fourth.

“It’s strange how he was my gym teacher in elementary school and now my college coach,” Naper said.

“Come to think of it, most of my past teachers have become coaches at some point.”

Aside from running and wrestling during the winter season, Naper is first and foremost a student. He juggles taking 19 credits this first semester on campus in addition to a 40-hour work week.

“It’s hard to practice with the team,” he said, “but my schedule now allows me to run with the guys each day, except Wednesdays.”

Over the last few seasons, the McDaniel men’s cross-country team has struggled to keep depth among its runners as few replace those graduating.

Having a freshman lead the pack behind a 27 year old non-traditional student has given Coach Doug Renner a positive outlook on the season.

Likewise, the indoor and outdoor track seasons look promising as a number of freshmen from across the country have expressed interest in competing.

And Naper, at least, has three more years to offer the team.

So far, the men have placed first and second in all of their meets.

Imperative to scoring the lowest points, Sean Allen, Nape, Cody Crutchley, Tim Snyder, and Russell Morin have consistently stuck together.

“I can almost match each guy
on this team with the personality of each of my high school cross country teammates,” said Naper. “I fit right in here.”