In some ways, Royce Daugherty got what he wanted.
On Tuesday, the Watervliet (MI) High School sophomore was back to football practice after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to allow high school sports to resume across the state, prompting the MHSAA to follow suit and reinstate fall activities.
That meant the pads were back on for the 6-foot-3, 275-pound athlete, an offensive and defensive lineman with hopes of one day playing in college. So, too, were those crushing blocks, and those big-time hits, and those hoo-rah chants and that dirt between his fingers.
With one fall practice, his dreams of attaining a football scholarship resumed, too.
"Let's GOOO BABYYYY," he wrote on Instagram upon the news of football's rebirth.
But in other ways, Daugherty was at least a little saddened. He didn't get to see the extent of what he could truly accomplish in cross country, the sport which he joined on a whim this fall after the uncertainty of football hung in the air. In two meets, he had knocked off seven minutes between races.
Just how fast could this big man could have run in 2020?
If but for just a second, his abrupt end to cross country bummed him out. Daugherty was among a few other football players on the cross country team waiting for news on football.
The group's last official cross country practice was Friday.
"Without a doubt I would have wanted to dual sport," Daugherty said Wednesday via text. "But I talked with both of my coaches and with all the meets, games and pratices, there's no way I could dual sport."
Few high school athletes of his size and mobility choose cross country, if only because the skill-set makes sense for other sports. Daugherty, a lineman who plays on both sides of the ball, is a multi-sport athlete who has competed in football, wrestling, basketball and baseball across his career.
Daugherty's best asset is his strength. He currently plates 250 pounds on the bench and 425 on the squat rack.
"I'm big enough to move people bigger than me," he says.
But just as important is mobility. Linemen not only must move opposing tackles and guards, but they also have to respond up the field, going from down to down in a hurry.
And cross country was going to help his aerobic fitness. Daugherty knew that. Beyond that internal drive, he also wanted to challenge himself in something new. He wanted to be the 275-pound athlete chasing the finish line.
"It was really just about finishing and just trying to beat myself from the week before," he said. "Every week I was trying to improve. These guys (my teammates) have been running since they were born. So I was just trying to improve myself and get better."
In Daugherty's first meet, he finished in just under 38 minutes, placing 29th out of 30 runners. But his team, a group of about 35 athletes who compete in the LP Division 3, urged him on.
* Daugherty, No. 75, working as a right tackle in 2019
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In fact, through every week and within every practice, he said, his teammates were incredible motivaors. Perhaps that's been the biggest takeaway from all of this, he said. He saw just how much work his teammates put in every day.
"They've been really accepting of me," he said. "They didn't expect this big old dude to run. But they helped me when I needed it. They were always trying to push me."
Daugherty's personal training was eye-opening, too. He said he ran close to three to five miles every day, which added up to about 15 to 20 miles every week. Hill workouts were probably the most taxing, he said, while he did some plyometric workouts on his own back home.
"At first I didn't think I would be able to do it," he said. "But after a couple days, I got used to it. It changed my mindset a lot.
"Basically I went from running 15 to 20 yards, to running three miles a day. That gave me grit and persistence."
By his second meet, which came last week, Daugherty finished in just over 30 minutes. He said he even ran his first mile in 8:30, a personal best.
That prompted some understandable changes. Personally, he said, his body began to lean out. He got down to as low as 265 pounds, which, for a second worried him. "I'm trying to keep my weight on," he said.
Among other things, Daugherty said he's learned the power of pushing past his limits. When he wants to stop from now on, he just thinks about what it will mean for him to finish one more rep.
"It taught me how to keep going even when you're tired," Daugherty said. "I've never really felt this feeling before. I'm not really sure how to explain it. But my body was telling me to keep going. I hadn't really ever felt that before."
There were also more meaningful moments, too. Since his story was first published in a local newspaper, Daugherty has received words from families all over the region, of mothers telling him their sons are inspired by what he's doing.
"That hit me hard," he said. "I will never forget that."
Of course, Daugherty can now look ahead. After all, cross country was simply a means to an end.
His true dream was to get back there on the football field, and after some fortuitous political bounces, he was granted that motion this week. Two days after his second meet, Gov. Whitmer signed the order, and the MHSAA reinstated sports.
But the lessons he gained from his few weeks in XC?
He said he won't forget them.
"Everything I do is so that I can play football at the next level," he said. "I think cross country really taught me valuable skills and self discipline. Persistence. All that stuff.
"I'm glad I did it."
And there's always this, too: Maybe during wrestling season he can chase after that 28-minute 5K goal.
Do you have a good story to tell? Email Cory Mull at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out to him on Twitter @bycorymull.