Luke-Estes-heads-to-stateOur Cross Country Team returns to the state meet in Waco this morning.  With Luke Estes looking to defend his championship title, it is a big day for Lions Cross Country. Coach Dirkson says Luke is in tip-top shape. San Antonio Express-News Reporter David Hinojosa tells Luke’s whole story. See Below.

Utilizing a running form that resembled The Carlton, Luke Estes’ foray into high school cross country four years ago wasn’t smooth.

Estes never noticed his arms swayed left and right across his body while he ran until he arrived for his first practice as a member of San Antonio Christian’s cross country team four years ago.

“Your form is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Estes recalls assistant coach Melissa Jones telling him. “We’re going to have to work on that the whole season.”

 Picture Alfonso Ribeiro’s character, Carlton Banks, dancing on the television show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

“With a limp,” San Antonio Christian coach Kenny Dirkson said.

It was a jarring start for Estes, who was the team’s youngest member then.

By season’s end, however, Estes had smoothed out his form enough to finish seventh at the TAPPS state championships. That performance helped the Lions secure the Class 4A team championship.

The kid had grown up.

“I have a picture of everyone at the starting line at that state meet,” Dirkson said. “You see Luke and think, ‘That kid is going to punch someone in the face if we don’t start this race soon.’ He was ready to go. From that moment on, he’s stepped up in big meets.”

Estes finished fourth overall the following year as San Antonio Christian claimed another team state championship. A year ago, a majority of the Lions back-to-back state championship team had graduated. But Estes won the TAPPS Class 5A state individual championship.

“That whole season was working toward to winning that one meet,” Estes said. “Once I won it, it felt surreal.”

Estes will attempt to defend that title on Monday at Cottonwood Creek Golf Course in Waco.

Dirkson wasn’t sure if Estes could reach this point after first seeing him four years ago.

“We had a goofy bunch, and he came in and he had the deer-in-the-headlights look,” Dirkson said. “He was completely frightened by the energy and the silliness going on.”

Aside from his running form, Estes had other struggles. He had never attended private school before, and he was slow to adjust to the school’s demanding academic load.

His grades suffered as he tried to keep up with class and training. Those troubles prompted Dirkson to tell him to take a break for a week from training so he could focus on his academics.

“I got discouraged,” Estes said. “I didn’t know any people, so I wasn’t close to anyone at the beginning of the year and everything was crashing down. There were many times I thought, ‘Should I even be going to this school? Should I even do cross country?’ But I kept up with it, and everything worked out in the end.”

Teammates Mason Riley and Josh Montgomery provided the guidance Estes needed to adjust. He was happy to run under their wings. When they graduated two years ago, Estes took charge.

“I couldn’t be the low guy anymore,” Estes said. “I was the oldest guy on the team. I was the only returning runner from the year before … I’ve never been looked up to. It took me a while to adjust to that.”

Dirkson added: “Luke flipped that switch mentally. His friends had graduated, and he knew he was going to have to do things on his own.”

Estes dedicated himself to rigorous training and was disciplined with his nutrition and getting enough rest before races. That led to his individual state championship last year.

Estes hasn’t received a college offer, but he said Kansas State, Texas State, Texas Tech and Auburn have shown the most interest.

This year’s state meet offers a new challenge. Defending his title won’t be easy. Fort Worth Christian junior Carter Cheeseman is the favorite in the boys 5A race. Cheeseman moved to Texas from Nashville, Tennessee, over the summer. Cheeseman ran 14 minutes, 42 seconds over a three-mile course at Keller earlier this season.

His fastest time over 5,000 meters, the same distance as the state course, is 15:01.7 this season. By contrast, Estes’ fastest career 5,000-meter time is 15:39.3.

Estes will have fresh legs. He has only entered three 5,000-meter races this season, and he’s won two. Estes has plans beyond the state meet.

He’ll attempt to qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker Nationals in November.

“A top two finish (at state) would be great,” Dirkson said. “He’s in tip-top shape for this week and the next few weeks.”

dhinojosa@express-news.net

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