O'FALLON — Patrick Perrier remembers when he decided to trade in his soccer cleats for a pair of running shoes.
It wasn't an easy decision for a 14-year-old freshman to make
"Soccer was my first love," Perrier said. "I had been playing the game since I was 4-years old. My freshman year, I played mostly on the junior-varsity, but I played in a couple of varsity games as well
"But when track and field season began and I was breaking freshman records without really training very much, some friends thought it might be a good idea if I went out for cross country. They were right. When I decided to try cross country, I got more serious about running, I got really good, really fast.''
Now three years later, Perrier will graduate from O'Fallon as the Panthers' first state cross country champion, a three-time state medal winner and one of the top distance runners in metro-east history.
After a 22nd-place finish as a sophomore and placing third in the Class 3A State Cross Country Meet a year ago, Perrier added the one title that had eluded him the longest when he won the state finals last month at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Perrier's time of 14 minutes 21 seconds was one second faster than Jesse Reiser of McHenry as he added his name along side other state champions such as Stephen Pifer (Edwardsville), Charlie Hatch (Nashville) and Craig Virgin (Lebanon).
For his title, Perrier has been named as the Belleville News-Democrat Class 3A Runner of the Year.
With Perrier and junior Dorrian Gordon leading the way, O'Fallon placed third in the team competition. O'Fallon was second the two previous years.
Perrier is headed to Stanford University next year, where he will compete in both track and field and cross country. He is the typical high-level distance runner, said Panthers coach Jon Burnett.
"What makes Patrick Perrier so good? Genetics, pure athletic talent and great work ethic and desire for starters,'' Burnett said. "Cross country tends to bring out the intellectual kids, it draws more of the disciplined kids and it draws more of the self-motivated-type kids. Patrick Perrier is one of those kids.''
Perrier, who is also one of the top 1,600- and 3,200-meter runners in the state, is humbled by all of the honors and accolades that continue to come his way.
Two weeks ago, Perrier competed in the Foot Lock National Cross Country Champioships in San Diego. The leader for nearly the first 2 miles, Perrier struggled home and placed 37th. Perrier placed 19th in the same meet last year.
"It's been three great years and they've gone by so fast. I'm grateful and also proud that I've been able to run in three state meets when most people don't have the chance to run one.'' Perrier said. "I think I would have been very disappointed if I wouldn't have won the state championship. But it would have also made me even more motivated for track and field in the spring.
"The goal now is the Grand Slam, which is to win the cross country title and the 1,600- and 3,200-meter state championships in the same (school) year. Pifer was the last one to do it in 2002-03. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't thinking about it.''
Perrier said he also felt the pressure of winning a state championship. When he stepped on the starting line that Saturday afternoon he was nervous.
"I was really nervous. I think I tried to play it off though by thinking that 'OK, you've been here before, you've run really fast times, you've medaled twice and you've qualified for national events,''' Perrier said.
"But its kind of tough when the guy videotaping the meet came to me and asked me how to pronounce my last name because he expected me to be in the lead.''
Perrier was in the lead for almost the entire race then held off a fast-closing Reiser in the end.
Perrier said he has watched the videotape of the race several times already.
"It's one of my favorite tapes to watch. It's kind of cool when you consider that it took a couple of moves to seperate some guys out, to win that race.''
"I still get chills when I watch that race and I see myself crossing the finish line and to hear the announcer say Patrick Perrier is going to win the state title. The first state title for O'Fallon.'
"That is ... so cool.''