Hopedale’s Jackson Hunt Leaving His Competitors In the Dust
By Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer
What happens when you find that no matter what sport you try, you just don’t seem to be that good?
Hopedale’s Jackson Hunt found himself in that particular situation, but at the urging of his mother he eventually found something that he could excel in.
“I played baseball, basketball and soccer up until the eighth grade, but found myself sitting on the bench a lot and when I did get into a game, I was not that good,” Hunt said. “I eventually quit all three, but I tried out for the cross-country team on a whim as my mother wanted me to play a sport to stay in shape and have something to do.”
The then-freshman was wondering what he got himself into during the tryouts and practices, but it was something that he really seemed to enjoy.
“The first three weeks of cross-county practice was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life,” he recalled. “While it was hard work and I felt completely exhausted each day, it was something that I thought was worth it.”
Much like every other sport he decided to try, Hunt found himself once again looking at failure. However, he really found something in running.
“I was not good at all, but my mother made me stick with it to keep active and a lot of my friends were running, so it became a lot of fun,” Hunt said. “Although we had to wear masks that first year and had a lot of our meets cancelled due to Covid, I found that I loved running.”
Having found a sport that he enjoyed participating in Hunt still found himself on the lower end of the talented runners. During his first season he recalled himself being the 13th best runner on the team, but it was not going to deter him.
Hunt may have been near the end of the running pack, but he wanted to improve and running was a sport in which he could see his improvement as his times went down.
Hunt also decided to run both indoor and outdoor track and although the indoor season was cancelled during his freshman year because of the pandemic, he still wanted to improve and continued to run to get ready for the spring season.
Running the 2-mile in the Divisional Meet during the spring, Hunt decreased his time to 11:27, which was a personal record by 33 seconds.
“I may have not been any good that first season, but I knew that I wanted to keep running,” he said. “When I recorded the 11:27 at the Divisions, it was the turning point. My time was still not that good, but at that point I realized that I could be good if I continued to push myself and I think the coaches saw my potential then too.”
Boys’ cross-country coach Joe Drugan was rather impressed with Hunt and his improvements.
“He knew nothing about the sport when he started running cross-country,” Drugan said. “I think he found himself sitting on the end of the bench for the basketball team, but he had the potential and as long as he took to our teachings, he had a future.”
Following his freshman season with Hopedale, Hunt had his eyes opened to the fact that he may be able to be a good runner. With that thought implanted in his brain, he found himself getting up at 7am in the morning during the summer break and running Monday through Friday.
When the fall came and it was time to return to school and run in the woods, Hunt was more than ready to take on the courses.
“That first cross-country meet that year I surprised everyone by winning it. Suddenly I went from 13th to 1st,” Hunt said. “It was shocking for me as well, I really didn’t know my limits at that point, I was just looking to push myself and ended up cutting 11 minutes of my time.”
When Hunt began running his freshman season his best time was 28:02 and by the end of that season he found that he had decreased his time to 23:42. By the time his sophomore season was completed, he was running a 17:07. During his junior year Hunt happened to catch COVID, not once but three times and the layoffs set the runner back quite a bit. However, he knew that he now had to work harder and although not as substantial as the previous year, he lowered his time to 16:45.
“Last year Jackson was a very important key to the team that helped us win a lot of meets,” the Coach said. “He has been taking what I have taught him to heart, and he is running with it – it has made him a top-notch runner.”
Following his junior campaign in cross-country, Hunt was notified that he was one of a dozen runners nominated for Central Mass Cross-Country Runner of the Year. During the Division 5 Outdoor Championship Meet, the Hopedale runner set personal bests in the mile with a time of 4:39 and in the 2-mile posting a 9:54.
As he gets ready to take part in his final season with the Blue Raiders, Hunt is looking at putting up some spectacular times. This past summer he logged at least 50 miles a week running to prepare for the upcoming seasons. To put that into perspective as to his dedication – Hunt only ran 40 miles once the previous summer.
“I am looking to get my cross-country time down to 15:30 and I believe that it is a real possibility,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot more miles this past summer, now I just have to make sure that I don’t get sick again.”
After finishing the State Meet in 13th place, Hunt is eyeing moving up into the top 5. Jumping 8 places seems like a big hurdle, but the senior is not worried about it. Prior to finishing 13th, he was 31st the year before; moving up 18 spots, so 8 is not an issue.
As the season begins, Hunt is hoping that his times continue to decrease as he would really like to run in college. Thus far he has reached out to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), but things could get even better. If he can really improve his running, then who knows he could possibly be looking at colleges like Northeastern or MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) instead of RPI or WPI.
While running is something that Hunt is looking to continue to do, he is very serious when it comes to his schoolwork. As he enters his senior year at Hopedale, he is unsure of where he actually sits in terms of his class numbers but is sure it is within the top three.
“I take academics very seriously,” Hunt said. “However, I don’t think that I would go to a college if I couldn’t run there. Running is something that I want to do for the rest of my life.