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Santiago named area athlete of the year

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By JOSH CLAYWELL

It was late in the season and the Fort Knox track and field teams were doing a pyramid workout, where athletes do exercises in increasing numbers.

Alhec Santiago looked around and realized not one of his teammates were lagging behind. That’s when the senior sprinter began to feel the Eagles were on the verge of catching lightning in a bottle.

Santiago was a freshman the last time the Fort Knox track team won the high school Class 1-A state title in 2014, and he believed the 2017 Eagles could climb that mountain again.

“Everyone was tired and you could see it by the look on their faces and the way they carried themselves,” Santiago said in a text message. “But as soon as that whistle would go off again, the whole team took off in unison, not straying from the pack and with focus on the next track meet to come. Everyone wanted to be there for the betterment of not only themselves but for the betterment of the team as well.

“It showed me that we were more of a family than anything and we had one goal in mind, to represent FKHS like never before.”

A few weeks later, Fort Knox was back on top of 1-A. Santiago ran the lead-off leg on the 400- and 800-meter state championship relay teams and also medaled in the long and triple jumps, helping the Eagles score 65.5 points to beat Louisville Holy Cross by 8.5 points.

“Winning State again was by far the highlight of my last high school season,” Santiago said. “My freshman year, when I was a part of the 2014 state championship team, it was amazing as a new athlete to track to experience such a big win. But I felt as though I barely made a dent in the total score.

“Looking back at my first year to now has really shown me how much I’ve grown not only as an athlete but as a young man wanting to be the very best he can be through years of dedication and over time at the track after practice.”

Second-year Fort Knox coach James Bleecker said Santiago was a huge reason for the team’s success.

“He pulled the team together when they were down,” Bleecker said. “He’s the only kid on that team that’s won two championships, so I think he made everyone believe we
could do it again.”

And as the season wrapped up, coaches across the area took notice of just how
much Santiago
meant to the Eagles.

Santiago was chosen as the Area Athlete of the Year on The News-Enterprise All-Area Track & Field Team, the first Fort Knox winner since Courtney Edwards in 2009.

“It’s honestly a blessing,” Santiago said. “It makes me feel accomplished to know that out of all the other hard working athletes I encountered this year, I was the one selected to represent the collective of high school athletes with big dreams and nonstop commitments toward their athletic goals.

“I didn’t get to where I am without practice and hard work, and for that I am grateful toward those who pushed me till the end.”

Santiago received four first-place votes and 23 points to top North Hardin senior Quincy Adams and Meade County senior Logan Greco, who tied for runner-up with two firsts and 17 points.

“He deserves it,” Bleecker said. “(There are) so many good things I could say about him. First of all, he’s a humble athlete and that’s what really impresses me. When we won, he didn’t say ‘I won.’ He said ‘We won.’ And when we lost, he took on that responsibility. He’s just an all-around good kid.”

Something that jumped out to Bleecker was Santiago’s ability to lead the team.

Before the 1-A, Region 3 meet at Green County, Santiago spoke to the boys’ and girls’ teams about the opportunity ahead of the program. Bleecker said his own speech wasn’t doing much, but Santiago spoke up before the team’s bus arrived in Greensburg on a cold and rainy Friday night.

Santiago said he hadn’t done anything like that before, but felt someone needed to say something.

“I took such a risk in influencing the mentality of my teammates, but I see it wasn’t in vain,” he said. “I stood in front of all those focused eyes and gave them my honest opinion on the growth and hard work they had achieved throughout the season and told them that this was our moment. This was our time to show all these other teams that we mean business and there’s no backing down now, not after all the blood and tears we put into the season so far.

“A leader is the solid foundation to a great team, the glue that bonds many athletes together. My love for the sport and my teammates led me to become the leader I had to be to see us take the championship title in the end.”