A year ago, Bishop O'Dowd High's Eugene Hamilton III ran his first varsity cross country race at the North Coast Section championships. He finished 35th in the Division III boys race.
Judging by his performance at the West Alameda County Conference meet on Nov. 3, Hamilton might be in line for a top-five finish at the NCS championships this season.
On the same 3.0-mile Hayward High course that is used for the NCS meet, Hamilton, a senior, won the WACC boys race in an impressive time of 15 minutes, 24.7 seconds -- slightly more than 50 seconds faster than his time at the 2011 NCS championships at Hayward.
"He's the most mild-mannered kid off the track and off the course, but when it comes to competition, he flips a switch," Bishop O'Dowd director of cross country Jamal Cooks said. "He wants to win."
In his first season of cross country in 2011, Hamilton was sidelined for several weeks with a post-operation infection after all four of his wisdom teeth were extracted. He ran only three races -- including the Hayward Area Athletic League junior varsity championship race, which he won -- before the NCS championships last year.
But the experience was enough to fire him up about the sport.
"I felt 100 percent motivated to come back for cross country after working out in the summer," said Hamilton, who competed in the state track and field championship preliminaries last June in the 800 meters. "I've never run this many miles ever before. This is a whole new experience for me."
In fact, Hamilton was a 200- and 400-meter sprinter his sophomore track season.
"I was running track, and I was originally going to run cross country to stay in shape," Hamilton said, "and it worked out well for me."
Hamilton took the lead in the last 1,200 meters of the race at the WACC championships. Bishop O'Dowd assistant coach Andrew Cheng was impressed with Hamilton's poise and confidence in that race.
"He never shied away from the pace. He never shied away from the lead pack," Cheng said. "He's been more confident in running with the leaders. He knows that he can run with some of the faster guys at NCS."