As a new college graduate, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School alumnus Michael Hexter hoped to return to Frederick this fall and help out with the cross country team since his younger brother Chris is on the team. Shortly into the team’s first meeting, however, Hexter saw his role expand from an assistant to head coach.
“It was a tumultuous start,” said Hexter, a 2007 high school graduate. “At my first meeting, I found out that the coach was leaving at the last second [due to a job conflict].
“My brother is one of the runners on the team and I just got back from college so I was hoping to help out with the team here or there. I found out the problem and I had just enough time to meet with the boys. I have running experience so I thought I’d probably be the best person to take over the team.”
With a little help from last year’s coach, Nick Snyder, who is now at Hagerstown Community College, and a dedicated group of runners, Hexter has developed the Patriots into a legitimate contender to capture the upcoming Frederick County championship meet.
“I was a little worried when I found out [about the coaching change] just a day before the season started, but it’s working out really well,” said Ben Freed, Thomas Johnson’s top runner this fall. “I really like him. He’s really smart with our training and I can really relate to him. He’s more like one of the guys.
“I think things are going pretty well. We’ve been training through a lot of these meets. I don’t think anyone has seen what we can do yet. We should keep getting better.”
Freed leads a strong group of runners. The team’s depth was displayed at the Frank Keyser Invitational held late last month.
Freed finished in fifth place while Thomas Trott, Louis Levine and Jon Karczmarek placed 12th, 13th and 14th, respectively. Less than six seconds separated them. Logan Staley, the team’s No. 5 runner, placed 21st, approximately 10 seconds behind Karczmarek.
The group allowed the Patriots to get past River Hill, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Gonzaga, Richard Montgomery, Urbana and Linganore.
“He was coached by our original coach [Snyder] so he uses a lot of the same methods and a lot of the same workouts and a lot of the same training routines,” said Karczmarek, who shares the captain duties with Levine. “He [also] put his own personal spin on what he felt was going to make the team better; I would say that it has. Things are more loose, but when we need to be, we are focused. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Levine added: “Our team is a contender, but we realize that anything can happen between now and until [the county meet]. We’re trying to stay focused on winning counties. It will not be easy.”
Hexter said the only apprehension he has felt has been his own as a new coach.
Meanwhile, Thomas Johnson athletic director Steve Nibbs is more than pleased with Hexter’s performance under difficult circumstances.
“Mike’s done an outstanding job coming in as a first-year coach,” Nibbs said. “He was an outstanding student and athlete when he was here. It’s really nice to see him doing the job he’s doing. It’s always nice to have alumni come back. I’m very proud of the job he’s doing. He has stepped in and gotten these guys motivated.”