Having starred at Sandburg during the same time legendary distance runners Tom Graves and Craig Virgin were dominating the cross country scene in Illinois, Bob Hicks is not easily impressed.
Following what recent Sandburg graduate Lukas Verzbicas has accomplished, however, is impossible to ignore.
“It’s neat watching what Lukas is doing,” Hicks said. “I always thought Tom Graves was the toughest mental and physical runner, but the times Lukas is throwing out there are unreal.”
Verzbicas, who graduated in May and will compete at the University of Oregon, was the winner of the Gatorade national cross country runner of the year award the past two seasons. He won two straight state cross country championships. He defended his state championship last fall with a time of 13:54, which broke former Auburn All-American Graves’ Sandburg record (13:56.6) set in 1977 but fell short of Olympian Virgin’s national record (13:50.6).
Verzbicas also became just the fifth U.S. high school runner to break four minutes in the mile when he won the Adidas Jim Ryun High School Dream Mile June 11 in New York with a time of 3:59.71 as an unattached competitor.
“He has a ton of talent,” Hicks said of Verzbicas, who won the U.S. Junior Triathlon in San Diego Saturday. “He has the work ethic and he’s been smart about everything. He knows when to take a break and doesn’t overdo anything. Runners are more sophisticated and smarter these days.
"We trained hard, but people nowadays are amazed that we didn’t worry about what we ate or drank, we just went out and ran. Lukas is so good, he thinks he’s going to kick butt when he goes out there.”
Hicks wonders how good he could’ve been with the type of training athletes endure these days, but has no regrets. He earned a scholarship to Auburn where he shined as an athlete, but more importantly studied to become a veterinarian.
“After college, I got away from running,” said Hicks, who now runs an animal hospital in Florida. “I ran a little bit to stay in shape, but the fun thing to me was competing. I spent eight years doing it rigorously and decided to take a break.
"The only way to improve is if running is the main thing you do every day and that wasn’t feasible with the workload I had and my schedule for vet school. I’m running more now than I have in a while. Going to Auburn was great and my opportunity to do what I’m doing today is because of track.”