NAPOLEON - Coming from a strong family background in the sport of football, Steven Weaver could have spent his high school career on the gridiron instead of etching out a future as a distance runner in both track and cross country.
However, the Napoleon senior has always blazed his own trail, which has typically led him to Columbus in both sports since he exploded onto the high school track scene as a freshman.
His father, Tom Weaver, was a standout running back at both Napoleon and the University of Toledo, while his oldest brother, Brad, garnered All-Ohio D-III second-team honors as a running back in 2005. Brother John, the next Weaver in line, was an all-district second-team linebacker for the Wildcats in 2009.
While Steven was following in the family footsteps as an eight-grader, had junior high cross country mentor Steve Wesche not been persistent about the young Weaver's distance running ability, the state may have been deprived of one of its top D-II cross country harriers today.
Taking note of Weaver's above-average speed and endurance, Wesche encouraged the future distance student to broaden his horizons.
Weaver decided to take the opportunity, making his debut at perhaps the largest and most competitive invitational of the season. The results were encouraging, to say the least.
"(Wesche) just kept asking me and asking me if I would just try one cross country race," recalled Weaver of his first experience. "I ran the Tiffin Carnival and I got fourth. A lot of people were surprised that I could just come out after playing football games leading up to that and get fourth at the Tiffin Carnival."
Despite the phenomenal finish at Tiffin, it was back to the pigskin for Weaver … if only for the time being.
"I liked (cross country), but I still wanted to focus on football and not give that up," he recalled. "So I played football my freshman year and I trained all winter with the guys for track."
It was that spring when Weaver's future seriously began to take an alternate direction, as he placed seventh in the 800 with a time of 1:57.57 and made the state podium with the Napoleon boys 3200 relay runner-up squad at 7:58.36 - just behind state champion Defiance.
Needless to say, Weaver found these results encouraging as he considered the upcoming fall of his sophomore year.
"After getting second in the 4x800 relay at the state track meet and getting seventh in the 800, I really knew I needed to focus on running if I was going to pursue it seriously later in high school and in college," he insisted. "At that point, I really knew I had to give up football and focus on cross country and track."
So how did this decision sit with his family of football standouts?
"Everyone really thought my dad would be against me quitting football, but he was really pushing for me to switch sports because he knew that it would benefit me in the end," Weaver replied. "If I was really serious about running track and cross country in college, I really needed to focus on it. Otherwise, I just wasn't going to be able to get that base in during football season and I wouldn't have had that training. So my family was very supportive of me."
According to longtime Napoleon cross country mentor Randy Burke, Weaver's first-year accomplishments on the track were just what he needed to enhance his determination to make the transition to cross country.
"That encouraged him well," Burke commented. "We told him he was a talented runner and, just coming out of track as a freshman and doing as well as he did, that he was a talented runner and could be tops in the state and be All-Ohio."
Burke was right on the money.
In just his first season with the Napoleon cross country team, Weaver ran his way to runner-up status in the GBC before placing third at districts and fourth at regionals. Weaver went on to place 25th at state, good enough for All-Ohio status.
"I was hoping to do a little better because I was running well all season," he admitted. "I had a slight calf injury that slowed me down a little bit. I was looking to get on the podium at state, but I was excited about getting All-Ohio in my first year."
With positive results came a more disciplined workout regimen which, to no surprise, produced another trip to Columbus that spring where the sophomore placed fourth in the 1600 with a time of 4:21.45.
"After cross country my sophomore year I started getting on a workout program and I just really built up a strong base for winter, spring and continuing into the summer," Weaver explained. "I would take a week off after each state meet and I would just build off of that. It really helped out a lot."
Weaver's junior cross country season was highlighted by league and district crowns before placing second at the Tiffin Regional. At state, Weaver finished second to Michael Brajdic of Bay Village despite a career-best time of 15:21.9 in the 3.1-mile race that was fast enough to break the D-II state record of 15:22, set by Aaron Melhorn of Navaree Fairless in '06. But it was bittersweet, as Brajdic's time of 15:01.9 went down as the new D-II benchmark.
"It was great because some of the guys came up to me after the meet and said, 'you got the state record, but you're not going to get it,'" Weaver said with a grin. "But knowing that I broke that (record) on that course was a pretty great honor."
Added Burke: "It could have been a state title if it wasn't for another gifted runner out in front of him, so we were very pleased with him finishing runner-up. We would like to have won but, under the circumstances, it was a great victory for us."
As a junior, Weaver finally found himself standing atop the state track podium after finishing first in the 1600 with a school-record time of 4:16.48 as he immediately directed his focus to his final year of cross country and goal of being Napoleon's first individual state champion.
"It would be great," Weaver stated. "We haven't had one in school history yet, so being the first one would be a pretty good honor. I want to get my time down, but if I can get that first-place spot at state I know the time is going to come with it."
In the wake of a summer training program that began with 40 to 45 miles per week and actually reached the 75-mile mark in September, his accomplishments are full of promise.
Weaver has ruled the postseason, capturing first against D-I runners in the Northern Lakes League as well as a D-II district crown last week at the Ottawa District. He is now confident and preparing for regional competition at Tiffin on Saturday along with teammate Clay Hunter, in an attempt for his third straight state berth.
"That's where he's dedicated," praised Burke of his senior's efforts and training. "He did research, he talked to certain people and he always talks to the coaches to find out what his body could handle to get the job done for him to run at the best of his ability. That takes a special kid to dedicate that much time with a work ethic to get things done.
"He doesn't look that fast, but try to run against him and see what you think," Burke added. "The hard workouts that he does are other people's race paces."
Not surprisingly, Weaver's accomplishments have attracted attention from the collegiate level. With hopes of majoring in operations management, the Napoleon harrier has shown interest in several colleges including Ohio State, Clemson and North Carolina State.
"I've taken a couple of college visits just to see what I like and what I'm comfortable with," he said. "I'm down to about five schools right now in Division I, so we'll see what happens after the cross country season."
Concluded Burke: "With his young running career, he's made a lot of progress and a lot of goals. I think Steven will have a bright future in front of him. He's a solidly-built kid, he can handle the miles, he can handle the workout and he has the speed. With his dedication, I think he'll fit right into the D-I programs and have a real bright future."