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National champ!

Butler senior Drew Griffith reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the Foot Locker National Championship high school cross country race in San Diego, Calif., on Saturday.12/9/23
Butler’s Griffith wins Foot Locker cross country race in San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Drew Griffith has spent his cross country career making various “jumps” in skill level from year to year.

The Butler senior took a giant leap on Saturday.

Griffith won the Foot Locker National Championship race in San Diego, topping a field of the 40 best high school cross country runners in the country. His time was 15 minutes, 6.9 seconds, nearly six seconds in front of Ryan Pajak of Ringgold High School.

Drew Griffith holds up the national championship trophy after winning the Foot Locker high school race in San Diego. Submitted Photo.12/10/23

Pajak edged Griffith out to win the Northeast Regional in Boston two weeks ago, marking the only cross country race Griffith lost all season. The Butler runner avenged that defeat on Saturday.

The top 10 finishers in four regionals held across the country made the trip to San Diego to compete for the national crown.

“This hasn’t sunk in just yet,” Griffith admitted. “I tried to treat this like just another race, just another cross country meet. But the talent that was out there ...

“This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Griffith trailed a couple of runners as he made the final uphill climb of the race, with approximately 600 meters to go.

“Drew had a plan for how he wanted to run this race and he carried out that plan perfectly,” Butler cross country coach Rick Davanzati said. “He figured runners would be tiring on that last hill and that’s when he wanted to make his move.”

And he did.

Griffith grabbed the lead by 2.5 seconds at the crest of the hill and took off from there.

“The rest of the race was downhill, but it was a steep downhill,” Griffith said. “I had to be careful, but I had to keep the lead, too. I could feel a runner coming up beside me. I had to loosen my legs a bit, keep them spinning and stay in front.”

He wound up beating Pajak to the finish line by six seconds.

“He wasn’t about to let anyone get past him,” Davanzati said.

Griffith and Pajak will both be running for Notre Dame next year. They will join Butler graduate C.J. Singleton, who is a sophomore with the Fighting Irish.

Singleton watched the race while on campus at South Bend, Ind.

“C.J. was jumping up and down, screaming and rooting him home,” Butler track and field coach Mike Seybert said. “This is just absolutely huge. We’re talking national championship here, best of the best.

“Drew could have finished 40th in this race and he’d still be one of the best cross country runners in the nation.”

Griffith became the first Butler cross country runner to qualify for the Foot Locker Nationals last year. He placed eighth in the race despite taking ill the night before.

He was totally healthy this time around. Griffith became the first Pennsylvania runner in 44 years to win the Foot Locker Nationals.

“It’s been my goal since last year to get back here and show what I could really do, what I was capable of,” Griffith said. “I definitely wasn’t at my best in this race last year.”

“Drew knows how to set a plan for a race and stick to that plan,” Davanzati said. “He’s got a lot of confidence in himself as a runner and as a competitor.”

That confidence level has grown from year to year throughout Griffith’s career.

“It’s amazing how far he’s come, the jumps he’s taken from year to year,” Seybert said. “Drew was injured his freshman year and really wasn’t running at a varsity level. Then he ran with C.J. as a sophomore and made tremendous improvement.

“Since his junior year, he’s been focused, driven, worked hard every day. He never looked back. He’s turned into quite a story.”

Griffith’s motivation doesn’t just come from within.

“I run for everyone who’s supported me,” he said. “My coaches, my family, my friends ... So many people have been behind me. I want to make them proud.”

Griffith said he will take some time off now, “just relax, play a little basketball with my friends,” before returning to running toward the end of the indoor track season.

“I’d like to jump into the DMR (distance medley relay) and help our (indoor) team win a state title,” He said. “That’d be fun.”

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