By David Krueger Herald Writer
EVERETT — Birds of a feather work together.
Everett’s Angelo Comeaux went from placing 32nd in the 3A state cross country meet in 2009 to Athletic.net’s No. 2 ranking in the state and being a contender for the 2010 championship. He worked very hard — but he wasn’t alone. He’s been guided by former state cross country champion and Everett alumnus Jeff Helmer.
Seagulls cross country coach Bruce Overstreet, who maintains contact with a lot of his former runners, talked to the 2005 champion about training with his current runner. Helmer happily obliged and the beginning of a beautiful partnership was forged.
“Jeff has been a Godsend for Angelo,” Overstreet said. “You look at a guy like Jeff, now a professional tri-athlete after four years at Arizona State. He’s done a great job of taking Angelo under his wing.”
Helmer, who works with Run26, a business in Lynnwood that helps train high school and collegiate athletes, has helped guide Comeaux on how to follow in his footsteps.
The results have been spectacular and immediate.
Comeaux’s best time in a 5-kilometer race last season came at the state meet where he finished in 16 minutes, 36 seconds. At this season’s Nike Pre-Nationals, Comeaux finished sixth, with a time of 15:40, almost a minute off his top time from the previous year.
“The old guy can only give so much advice,” Overstreet said. “There’s more of an affinity for someone closer to your age. … He tempers enthusiasm with a more practical approach. Young runners think more is better, and that’s not always the case. That’s where a savvy veteran like Jeff comes in.”
Comeaux, in turn, takes what he learns from Helmer and leads his fellow runners by setting an invaluable example.
“He is a great example for the other kids of what happens when one works hard,” the 13-year Everett coach said. “So often people rely on talent. Angelo’s a great example of a kid who came in as a freshman and he was OK. He thought, ‘I’m going to work my tail off and get better.’
“It’s all him. I can’t take any credit.”
The Seagulls’ focus, Overstreet says, is to “stress this blue-collar kids from the blue part of town” attitude. “We gotta work really hard,” he said.
Overstreet said Comeaux embodies this philosophy. He gave an example of one night last spring when, after track season was over, he saw Comeaux running at 9:30 at night in “the dark, pouring-down rain.”
The senior’s hard work and performance at the Nike Pre-Nationals event opened some eyes, and drew a lot of attention to the runner from Everett.
“Now that the ball’s rolling, I’ve probably gained some more attention,” Comeaux said. “I am talking to a school or two. It hasn’t been difficult, but it’s been different. Before now I haven’t really been on the radar at all.”
Comeaux declined to get into specifics about which schools he was talking to, but did give one clue as to where he might end up running after high school.
“I’ll probably stay somewhere along the West Coast,” Comeaux said.
The training, according to Helmer, is a very strict process that includes easy days to recover, and one day a week, in Comeaux’s case, Sunday, when he has to get up at 7:30 a.m. to join the Run26 team for a 14-mile run.
“He’s been really consistent doing his long runs on Sundays,” Helmer said. “That’s a very important day in the program. Some kids will show up now and then, but he’s been there every Sunday.
“He’s really dedicated to it,” Helmer continued. “I told him ‘You have to make a decision. If you want to be good, this is what you have to do.’ He’s stuck to it, and I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do later on this season.”
Helmer, who is training for a career as a professional tri-athlete, relishes the opportunity to help his former school and coach.
“It’s really rewarding to actually be able to help out,” he said. “Just the fact that Bruce calls and that he’s going to accept advice and guidance. … I think that really speaks to him as a coach. He really wants to learn and help his runners get better. Bruce has always been about doing what’s best for the kids.”
It’s not just the physical training that’s been giving Comeaux an edge, but the mental aspect as well.
“(Comeaux) always has questions to ask me about my training and what it takes to be successful,” Helmer said. “He’s just really hungry and eager to do well. A lot of his questions are based about what he should be doing in his training.
“All the time I’m trying to give him confidence and let him know he’s going to perform at his best later on in the season.”
Sounding eerily similar to the experienced Helmer, Comeaux summed up his philosophy: “There’s no real easy path and there’s no way around hard work,” he said. “An equally important factor is just confidence. If you really believe you’re capable of something, you can really propel yourself to that point.”
“I think he’s already solidified himself as one of the top runners in the state,” Helmer said. “And I think his best running’s yet to come.”
Helmer’s impact isn’t just limited to Comeaux. He has a great relationship with his former coach, talking to him almost weekly during the season as he helps Overstreet manage his star athlete.
“That’s the best thing about Bruce,” Helmer said. “He’s all about having fun and making it the best for the kids.”
“The mentor has become the protégé,” Overstreet joked, “and it’s all benefiting Angelo.”