Joe Godfrey is running in the footsteps of his older brother — literally and figuratively.
Michael Godfrey was the top runner for the Shoreham-Wading River High School boys cross-country team before graduating this past spring. Now Michael is a freshman at Hunter College and his younger brother has moved up the pecking order at a surprising rate.
The younger Godfrey opened some eyes in the first meet of the season by taking first place against Islip in 16 minutes, 23 seconds over 2.8 miles at Cedar Point Park in East Hampton on Sept. 13.
“I was unshakeably nervous the first meet,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure.”
Anthony Peraza and Joe Chianese, the senior team captains, were battling for the No. 1 position heading into the season, but Peraza was ill that day. Chianese was Shoreham’s leading runner with about a half-mile to go in the race. Then Godfrey passed him.
“I’ve been impressed with him,” coach Bob Szymanski said of Godfrey, a junior in his second year on the team. “He is a competitor. Once you get him in a race, he’ll do exactly what you tell him.”
Godfrey started running in community races the summer before his freshman year with a “pretty goofy form.” But his brother was a mentor, helping him correct his technique.
“I’d say he had a really big influence on me even before I got on the team,” Godfrey said. “He got me motivated for running.”
Last season Godfrey climbed up the ladder from the seventh man on the team to the fifth, but he wasn’t done. Godfrey ran with Peraza and Chianese six days a week this past summer to prepare for the season.
“I’d say I took this summer pretty seriously,” Godfrey said. “I really buckled down.”
That’s the sort of stuff Szymanski likes to hear. “That’s the key, training over the summer,” the coach said. “If he doesn’t train over the summer, you know, we’re out of luck.”
Despite a troublesome right side of his hip that aggravates him once in a while, Godfrey has been running well, Szymanski said, with the potential to finish first, second, third or fourth among Shoreham runners in any meet.
That is a reflection of the type of team Shoreham has. The Wildcats don’t have any star runners, but they do have good ones.
“From week to week, I don’t know who our number one man is,” Szymanski said. “Every week it’s someone different.”
On Friday, it was Peraza’s turn. He came in fifth to lead Shoreham to victory in the Class B race at the Tom Knipfing Memorial Cross-Country Invitational at Firemen’s Field in Ridge. The next three Shoreham runners — freshman Adam Zelin, Chianese and Godfrey — finished sixth, seventh and eighth within seconds of each other. Their times were not available.
Shoreham was fifth among 26 teams in the Suffolk Coaches Invitational at Sunken Meadow State Park on Sept. 24.
Shoreham has a 3-0 record in League VI, having defeated defending league champion East Hampton, Islip and Bayport-Blue Point. The Wildcats are chasing their first league title since 2013. That year they won their 11th straight league championship and 12th in 14 years, said Szymanski.
Szymanski said Godfrey, like his older brother, is a hard worker.
Godfrey said there’s no room for complacency. “If you want to be first, you got to train like you’re second,” he said. He added: “The plan at the end of the day, all the guys know, is just bettering yourself. No one has a spot on the team that they didn’t earn. I run with a lot of hard-working, determined guys.”
Fear of failure is a motivator, but so is a strong desire not to let his coach down.
“Bob Szymanski is just the kind of coach that you don’t want to disappoint,” Godfrey said. “Coach Szymanski, he’s this magnetic figure almost, I’d say. He’s been around for so long and he’s created so many great runners that people really idolize him. He’s just a great coach.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River junior Joe Godfrey with coach Bob Szymanski. (Credit: courtesy)