CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The years, like step after step, fly by for George Washington senior Matt Brafford, the state's No. 1 Class AAA boys runner.
Brafford will look to cement his high school career legacy and finish on top, as individual runners and teams from across the state compete in Saturday's Cross Country State Championship at Cabell Midland.
"It's really kind of a shock, because four years has gone by so fast," Brafford said reflecting on his career. "It's kind of a shock to realize I only have one more cross country race in my GW uniform. It's definitely going to be a hard thing to do, especially once I cross the finish line.
"That could be the last time crossing a high school finish line with a GW symbol on my chest, so it's definitely going to mean a lot and it's really going to sting, because it's meant a lot to me to run at GW for four years and just have the success that I've had."
Brafford, a four-time Region 3 champion, enters as the state's top runner in his class, according to www.runwv.com. Jefferson's Andrew Milliron ranks second and poses the largest, if only, threat to Brafford's state title hopes.
Last season, Brafford finished second (15:42.10), 44 seconds behind three-time individual champion Jacob Burcham, of Midland. Now, Brafford said he's ready for his opportunity atop the podium stand.
"To be able to say I'm No. 1 would mean so much to me, just because last year I was No. 2 and the past three years, I've been behind Jake," Brafford said. "To finally be able to move up to that No. 1 spot and have the spotlight for one time, it would mean a lot to me."
In Class AAA team standings, even without Burcham, defending champ Midland - currently ranked second - figures to play a prominent role, though No. 1 University enters as the team to beat.
"Without a doubt, they're definitely the odds-on favorite simply because they were the state runners-up last year and basically lost nobody," Knights Coach Chris Parsons said.
Each of University's top five runners rank within the state's top 31 as depth extends throughout the roster.
"They have five guys that are well under 17 minutes," Hurricane Coach Jason Henley said of University's squad. "Most of their team is under 16:30. They're the team to beat. They showed it last year finishing up in that second spot and then return basically the whole team. It's theirs to lose."
Behind University, Midland and third-ranked Hurricane will look for opportunity should University stumble. Jefferson and Morgantown represent contenders looking for a top-three spot, too, Parsons said.