James Martin 12th at Foot Locker event Carroll senior earns 2nd all-America in week.

By Brett Hess nssports@news-sentinel.com

James Martin can rest now. Sort of.

The Carroll senior cross country star placed 12th Saturday in San Diego at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships, earning his second all-America honors in a week.

“Last week at Nike, I didn't run very well because of all the mud,” Martin said of his 11th-place finish in Portland, Ore., in the Nike Nationals. “I didn't think it was a fair judgment of how good I am. I thought if I got top 10 today, it would justify how good I am.”

Martin was unhappy a top-10 finish slipped away as he was passed by two runners down the homestretch.

“I was counting places. I knew I was in the top 10 the whole way,” Martin said. “But then two guys blew past me. The finish was such a blur. It happened so fast.”

Martin finished the hilly two-loop course at Balboa Park in San Diego in 15 minutes, 27 seconds. The winner, for the second straight year, was Lukas Verzbicas of Illinois in 14:59. Martin was also the third finisher from Indiana as the IHSAA champion Futsum Zeinasellassie of North Central was runner-up (15:11) and Carmel's Chris Walden was fifth (15:22).

Regardless of how the ultra-driven Martin feels about himself, his performances this past month have been extraordinary. The Midwest qualifying meets for both the Nike and Foot Locker contests are regarded as the toughest. Not only did Martin advance out of both, but he followed it up with two all-America honors. Four weeks, four great races.

“I am one of only (four) who were all-Americans in both races,” Martin said.

In the Foot Locker meet, the top 5 are considered first team all-America, the next five second team and places 11-15 are third team all-America. In the Nike championships, placing 11th gave Martin second team all-America.

To put his performance in perspective, it is the second-highest finish for a boy from northeast Indiana. Only Andrew Begley of Westview, who placed fourth in 1994, finished higher. In fact, Martin is only the second runner from northeast Indiana to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals since Begley. Northrop's Bobby Moldovan finished 38th in 2006.

Martin said Saturday's race went as expected: the start was fast. Both Verzbicas and Zeinasellassie took it out hard (2:17 the first 800 meters) and 4:45 the first mile, both times with a 3-second lead. Martin, a typical front-runner, was content to sit in the lead pack.

“Everyone wanted to get out fast because the course gets narrow,” Martin said. “I wanted to make sure I was in the top 10.”

By the two-mile mark, Verzbicas and Zeinasellassie had a 15-second lead (9:32). Martin, like others, was trying to hang on as the field went up the hill one more time.

“The last mile, before the hill, I was pretty winded,” Martin said. “Going up the hill, I was doing all I could do to keep my legs going. Just to finish.”