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THE GRIND: Forsyth Central's Hasse now is a national elite runner
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Forsyth Central senior Will Hasse was a complete novice to cross country when he came out for the team as a freshman. Three years later, he's just four seconds off the school record and a big reason why the Bulldogs are a state title contender in Class AAAAA. - photo by Micah Green

Will Hasse wasn’t familiar with cross country running when his parents urged him to join Forsyth Central’s team four years ago. As a freshman, Hasse showed up to the first day of practice on the track and familiarized himself, not with any stadium bleachers or yard markers—details obsolete in long distance running—but with a certain runner. He had singled out Max Warner, another senior on Central’s team this year. At the time, he thought Warner was an upperclassman.

“He was really fast and I thought to myself, ‘wow, I want to be like him,’” Hasse said.

Give it a few years and he would.

On Aug. 29, 2015, Hasse finished the Bob Blastow Invitational in Whitesburg, Ga., with a time of 16:18.94. Hasse’s new personal-best was strong enough to earn him a slot among 13 other runners from the event that met the national silver standard.

However, it was also fast enough to beat Warner’s personal best of 16:21.06. Hasse didn’t forget the milestone he had penned to his agenda four long years ago.

“That was actually huge for me,” Hasse said. “I didn’t think I’d be that fast in my life.”

It’s the inter-squad competition at Central that has helped the Bulldogs become one of the elite groups in Georgia. After placing fifth at state last season, the returning group of Hasse, Warner, Charlie Webb and Cole Gizelbach—all seniors—has propelled the identity of the program to places none of the eldest runners on the current team could ever have imagined.

Everyone in the program is looking at 2015 as a “now or never” year to win the state championship.

“Everybody is training a lot more intense. If we don’t do it this year we’re not going to do it, period,” Hasse said. “I think too many of us bought too much into being the best last year. It was so new to get all of that attention. Before we all got here, we finished second to last in region, so the change is still kind of crazy.”

Getting good at running is still a process for Hasse. Before high school, Hasse was strictly a soccer player. He competed on select teams and top programs as a defender, where he learned to “race” other players on the pitch.

“I was never a striker. I played defense, and there would always be long balls that would come in and I’d race them to the ball. I was racing already, really,” Hasse said.

When Hasse joined the cross country team at Central, running was a hobby. He had other hobbies, like hiking and being outdoors, and eventually repairing a 1980, baby blue Volvo station wagon, which he claims has “over 300,000 miles” on the ticker.

Then the work ethic changed, and Hasse focused more on adding mileage to his own legs. He got in the habit of texting Webb, his “running buddy,” to wake up just past 5 a.m. at least twice a week to go for morning runs before class. When others are having fun after school, Hasse is looking to get his miles in in the afternoons. His newfound obsession with long-distance running could very well land him a college scholarship, as well as offer new surroundings.

“I am kind of being looked at for colleges. I’m like on lists probably somewhere,” Hasse humbly laughed. “That’s huge. Are people actually recruiting me? That’s crazy.”

Hasse has visited Appalachian State, Clemson, Georgia College and Western Carolina, but likes the idea of moving out to Colorado for college if financially possible. However, for now, he’s laser-focused on finishing his ascension at Central. He hopes to come close to or beat the school record, which was set last year by Austin Campbell: 16 minutes and 15 seconds.

“This is my only sport. Running is all I do now,” Hasse said.