Amador Valley High senior Conner McKinnon is aiming high in the 800 meters and chasing a Dons legend.
McKinnon's goal is to break Dan Gabor's 27-year-old school record and win a state championship in the two-lap event.
"It's a big, lofty goal," Amador Valley coach Peter Scarpelli said. "But he's got the guts for it and the strength and the mental makeup for it."
McKinnon and Dons sprinter Ja'Maun Charles will be among the school's top contenders at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions on Friday and Saturday at Cal's Edwards Stadium, as Amador Valley looks for a third straight boys team championship.
The top three individuals in each event automatically advance to the California Interscholastic Federation Championships in Clovis on June 6-7.
McKinnon's best 800 time of 1 minute, 54.74 seconds is about four seconds off Gabor's magical mark of 1:50.71. Ellis Newton of Mayfair-Lakewood is the state leader at 1:51.86, according to DyeStatCal.com. Hercules' Antwuin Prowes has the section's best time in the 800 at 1:53.63.
So McKinnon has a little catching up to do, but he likes big challenges.
"Obviously, no one tries to be No. 2," McKinnon said of his gung-ho mindset. "I wouldn't want to be No. 2. It's always best to try and be No. 1 and go out there for the big title."
A year ago, McKinnon and Charles got a taste of state-meet success in Clovis, standing on the podium after helping the 1,600 relay team place third in a school-record 3:13.57.
They're used to finishing the season strongly.
"We weren't ranked to do that in the beginning, and just through all the hard work we put in, we were able accomplish something like that," Charles said. "I'm grateful that something like that happened."
Charles credits McKinnon with setting the standard at Amador.
"Conner's a great team leader," Charles said. "He's more of a leader by example. Just seeing him out there run his hardest makes you want to get out there and run next to him, even if you can't keep up or whatever."
In terms of motivating factors, McKinnon was disqualified from last year's NCS Tri-Valley Championships for coming in too quickly on the third turn and cutting inside the cone. He thought he'd won the 800 race before getting the bad news.
"It was a bummer. I knew what happened almost right away when they said I got DQ'd," McKinnon recalled. "After that, I didn't really think about it that much."
Ledre McCullough and Chris Bayley round out the Dons' 1,600 relay team, which ran a season-best 3:17.44 at the Tri-Valley meet and is ranked 10th in the state. San Ramon Valley is ranked 12th at 3:17.95.
Gabor holds a special place in Amador Valley track and field history. He remains the school's only individual state champion in any sport after winning the 800 title in 1987.
Gabor's life was cut short in 1996, when he was aboard TWA Flight 800, which exploded after takeoff outside of New York City.
The Dan Gabor Memorial Invitational at Amador Valley is one of the early invitationals each track and field season.
McKinnon said he's come to learn that Gabor was a great person and one he'd surely be honored to surpass in the record books.
WHERE: Edwards Stadium, Berkeley
SCHEDULE: Friday -- Field event finals begin at 9:30 a.m., track event trials begin at 1 p.m.; Saturday's finals -- Field events begin at 9 a.m., track events begin at 1:30 p.m.