Nick Foster may have quit soccer a few years ago but the Pioneer distance runner is still getting his kicks – just in a different way. He’s kicked his running ability into the highest gear possible with the fastest time so far this year in Division 1 boys’ cross country.
And he’s only a junior.
Foster, who just turned 17, will be among the favorites Nov. 4 at MIS when they hit the starting line at the Division 1 state meet in Brooklyn.
In six races this season, Foster has finished first four times. He was second earlier this month at the Portage Invitational to Cole Johnson, a senior from Rockford. Foster finished in 15 minutes, 21.8 seconds while Johnson crossed in 15:20.2.
Foster’s best this year is a state-best 15:13 – which would have won the state finals last year.
“I’m ranked No. 1 in the state but there are a lot of guys in the state right around that number,” Foster said. “Cole Johnson will be there along with a couple other guys trying to win states. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”
One of Foster’s strengths is his closing ability and his speed in the last 200 meters. But Johnson also has good wheels at the end of the race. So how do they match up?
“Anyone else in the state I feel I can beat them if we are even heading down the stretch,” Foster says. “My strength is finishing strong. But (Johnson) was the state champion in the mile and second in the 800 in track so he’s got some speed. It would be interesting because we both finish hard.”
Don Sleeman, the head boys’ cross country coach at Pioneer, is glad to have Foster at the top of the batting order.
“He’s very coachable,” Sleeman said. “He responds very positively to suggestions. He has great family support who allow him and me to work on solutions together. He’s very well-liked and supportive of his teammates.”
Foster would rather talk about the team than the individual and has taken great pride leading the Pioneers across the finish line this year. And he hopes to take them to the winner’s circle at the Division 1 state meet.
“Our team has been super successful,” he says. “We have won every meet this year so far. The team is the most important part for me. Everything we do and how we train is centered around the team. We all race for one another and the only way we can win is by helping each other. Being first is important to me personally but also because it’s the best way I can help the team out and get the lower score.
“It’s all about the team.”
“The team” is currently the top-ranked team in the state and have beaten Saline (top five) and Romeo (ranked second) multiple times this season.
“We are projected to win (states) which is a little bit of pressure,” Foster says. “But the goal is to win the states. I also would like to win overall. Everyone trained really hard this summer and that helped get us off to a strong start and we hope to carry that right to the end.”
Foster has not only trained and worked hard to become an elite runner but he’s also what you would consider a smart runner, one who is getting smarter with each race.
His run at last year’s state cross country finals was impressive, especially considering it was his first time at such a high-pressured meet. He came into the race seeded 50th and landed 17th overall (16:00.4), blowing away everyone’s expectations but his own.
“It was a new experience,” he said. “I’ve never been in a meet that size before and my coach told me to run with the crowd and do the best that I could.”
Even though he was seeded 50th, his goal was top 20 – because that’s how Nick Foster rolls. He has higher expectations for himself because he expects more from himself.
“I figured if I could stay with that top group and then finish strong like I usually do then I could get in the top 20,” he said. “I was really happy where I finished.”
Foster helped lead the Pioneers to a fifth-place run at states with 237 points, behind only Novi, Brother Rice, Saline and champion White Lake Lakeland (125).
At the start of last year’s state finals, three runners took off and created their own pack at the top of the race. Foster settled in with the second pack for much of the race.
“I was kind of hanging on the back end of the next pack which was a group of about 25 runners so I was hanging on for dear life,” he said. “With 200 to go I was about 25th and finished hard to get 17th. It was a very cool experience.”
Experience is a good word. So is lesson. Because Foster is going to use that experience as a lesson for how he approaches this year’s state final’s run.
“My goal for this year is to be in that lead pack,” he says. “That’s been my focus. To get to that level. I want to go out with that top pack and stay with them for as long as I can.”
Foster was second at Regionals last year at Lake Erie to eventual state champion Riad Rababeh of Dearborn who ran 15:24.8 at MIS.
Foster also had success in track and field this past spring. He was a member of the 4×800-meter relay team which took seventh at the state meet to earn All-State honors. Foster also ran the mile, which he finished third in at the state meet.
While Foster was running track as a freshman he also was playing club soccer with the Michigan Tigers. He realized then that trying to do both was too difficult which left him with a difficult decision.
“I had a lot of success as a freshman in track so I decided to give up playing soccer and focus on running,” he said. “I had played soccer my whole life. It was a hard decision. But it became obvious that running was my thing and I was better at it then I was in soccer. I liked running and enjoyed being on the track team. By the end of my freshman year it was pretty clear what I would be doing.”
Foster started running in middle school and set city records in three events in eighth grade. That got him to the next step, running in high school.
Nick’s parents are Dave and Katie Foster. He has a younger brother, Will, who is 14 and plays a number of different sports. His older sister, Meghan, was a member of Pioneer’s state championship field hockey team and also All-State in tennis.
So great athletes “run” in the Foster family.
So, what’s the next step after high school?
While there is a university only a few short steps across the street that he’s “very interested in,” Foster also is going to explore schools a little further away – he is a distance runner after all.
“I want to run Division 1 and probably Big Ten,” he says. “(Michigan) is definitely in the mix. A lot of schools are sending letters so the recruiting process has just started. At this point, it’s been a lot of fun. At some point it might get overwhelming.”
He will deal with that the same way he deals with everything – take it all in stride and exceed everyone’s expectations except his own.