Two years ago, Patrick Perrier had never competed in a cross country race and was spending his fall afternoons trying to avoid defenders as a member of O'Fallon's soccer team
Perrier described himself as a "good" player.
"I grew up playing soccer. My freshman year, I played a few games on varsity," Perrier said. "But I also loved to run. Now if there's a game in a park or somewhere, I'll still play. But I know running is my future.''
That realization comes as no surprise to O'Fallon coach Jon Burnett.
"I had seen Patrick run in junior high and knew he had a lot of potential," Burnett said. "But he had played soccer for several years and I knew it would be difficult for him to give it up.
"Then Patrick comes out for track as a freshman and breaks all of Alex (Riba's) records. The ones Alex didn't have, Michael (Scolarici) had, and Patrick broke those, too. I'm sure the decision to run cross country wasn't easy. But it was his decision and one he felt was best for him.''
Now, two Class 3A state cross country medals and a top 20 finish in the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships later, Perrier's decision to join the Panthers' squad has proven to be a good one.
After placing 22nd and helping O'Fallon place second at the 2011 Class 3A state cross country meet, Perrier teamed with Riba to form the best 1-2 punch in the state this season.
Perrier went on to place third last month at Detweiller Park in Peoria while Riba was fourth as they led O'Fallon to a second straight second-place team trophy.
It was a fitting ending for Perrier, who reached all three of his primary goals for the season.
"I hit every goal I wanted to hit plus more,'' Perrier said. "At our first meet up in Peoria, I wanted to break 14:30 and I ran a 14:27 At the state meet, I wanted to run something in the 14:20s and I broke that by five seconds (14:15).
"Plus I met my team goal of helping us win a trophy for the second straight year.''
The co-winner of the Belleville News-Democrat Runner of the Year along with Riba, Perrier has continued to shine in the postseason. Competing against the best high school runners in the nation earlier this month at the Foot Locker National High School Cross Country Championship in San Diego, Perrier placed 19th out of 40 runners, finishing the demanding 5K course in 15 minutes, 43 seconds.
"What that race did was put running in perspective for me,'' Perrier said. "I wasn't nervous, which actually shocked me. I got out, was relaxed and it kind of showed me that I can go out and race with anybody."
Ed Cheserek from Newark, N.J., won the race with a time of 14:59. Cheserek also captured the 2011 Foot Locker championship.
Perrier said the difference between himself and the top runners was experience.
"They all have a lot of speed and they are really talented. They're also stronger,'' Perrier said. "But the experience is huge when it comes to a race like this. The top five or six guys had run in this meet before and they knew how to run against each other.
"They have a mind-set that they're at the top. They're not afraid. They just go out, run their race and hopefully its for the best.''
Now, Perrier plans to help O'Fallon stay among the top teams in Class 3A cross country in Illinois.
While Riba graduates, O'Fallon's next five runners will return for the 2013 season.
Riba, in addition to being a good friend, teammate and training partner, also provided motivation for Perrier this year.
"I put more expectations on myself this year than maybe I should have. I saw Alex (Riba) place second up there (Peoria). What he did last year did motivate me. I wanted to go out and show that I could be just as good as he was,'' Perrier said. "Running a 14:15, I got third so I was a place behind him. But in a meet like that, I can't run any better.''
As for the 2013 season, Perrier hopes to again qualify for the Foot Locker National Championships as well as help O'Fallon win the state title.
"I'd be lying if I said I don't want to win the state meet," Perrier said. "And I want to go back to the Foot Locker and finish in the top five.
"Team-wise, we've got a lot of guys coming back and we're a pretty close group. I think we've got a shot, but it just comes down to being your best on that one day. That one race.''
Perrier is the son of Leonard and Colleen Perrier. Although college is nearly two years away, Perrier plans to major in political science and go into pre-law.