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Moccasins race back to county for Emerson


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001

BROOKSVILLE -- If there's a pipeline from Hernando County to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, it's not only getting stronger but faster. Hernando senior John Emerson, one of the area's top distance runners, is the latest athlete to sign with the Moccasins, who will have a cross country scholarship waiting for him this fall.

A big reason the 18-year-old chose the NCAA Division II school was a few familiar faces on campus. His foster sister, former Central standout Laura Moore, plays volleyball for the Moccasins, and one of his best friends is Brian Major, a sophomore runner who won a state title in the mile at Hernando in 1999.

"It's definitely going to be a lot easier having them there," Emerson said. "Brian got me really excited about running. He's constantly talking about how we can train together. He made me excited in general about the school."

Emerson's future as a college runner wasn't always a sure thing. He missed most of his junior season with a dislocated ankle and fractured fibula he suffered in a pickup football game. A slow but steady recovery was complete by July, when he ran the Midnight Run 10K race in Dunedin.

"I hadn't run anything really fast, and I went out and ran a really good race," said Emerson, who finished sixth overall, ahead of many local college runners. "When you can run with college runners and compete with them, it definitely builds your confidence."

Last fall, he was the Times' All-Hernando/Citrus Runner of the Year after winning district and conference titles and finishing seventh in the state meet.

Any doubts as to how quickly Emerson could make an impact on the college level were covered in this spring's Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, in which Emerson finished 14th overall, ahead of not only Major but the entire Florida Southern contingent. As the year progressed, Emerson's mother, Joan, noticed his interest in attending Florida Southern growing with every phone call.

"The more he talked to Brian, the more the coach talked to him," she said. "It's going to be wonderful for (father) Frank and (brother and Hernando freshman) Logan and I, because we'll be able to see Laura and John both when we visit, and it's not so far away."

Emerson's decision ultimately came down to Florida Southern and Florida State, and in choosing between sprawling university and tiny campus, he picked the smaller option.

"I asked him, "Do you want that whole football thing?' because it's a very different feel," his mother said. "He's stayed over at Florida Southern a couple times and liked it, and he's liked everybody he's met. They're extremely warm and personable, and when you go to someplace like Florida State, you can get lost in all of it."

Florida Southern doesn't have a track program, so Emerson will be able to focus entirely on cross country and his classes, which is fine by him.

"I enjoy cross country a lot more than track anyway," said Emerson, who ran in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in Thursday's Class 2A, Region 2 meet at Central.

Hernando cross country coach Ernie Chatman said Florida Southern is a good fit for Emerson, a chance for him to excel in the company of familiar runners.

"John's a class individual, first of all," Chatman said. "I think it's a good opportunity for him to run with individuals he knows. It makes him feel comfortable in that environment, and having run against a lot of these in local road races has given him an idea of what he can do and the potential he has for running at that level."

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