* Will Conway in an early-season race this fall; he's won five of six races over his 2023 campaign
Photo Credit: Anna Garcia/Kentucky MileSplit
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Nearly two weeks ago, a lightbulb clicked for Will Conway.
A little past the mile marker at the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational in Louisville, Kentucky, the Floyd Central (IN) senior trailed Landon Kimmel by about five seconds.
By the two mile, Winfield's (WV) Brayden Marshall made a move along with Kimmel and the pair dropped Conway.
But into the third mile came the hill, and that's when Conway made up the difference, surging past the duo en route to a victory in 14:41.25, a time that stood up as one of the six fastest in the country. It was also a major new career best for Conway, one of Indiana's top runners.
Conway had typically been the gung-ho type. If you're not leading, you're trailing, as they say. But here, he held his cool, dispatching the leaders with less than a mile to go.
"There is no special formula for me," Conway said, "as long as I'm crossing the line first."
So far this fall, nearly everything has gone right for the high school senior and University of Tennessee commit, who some would compare to Craig Engels for his mullet and bravado. His Instagram description reads, "the kid with a mullet from Floyd Central."
"The guy with the mullet," Conway says, "that's probably how I've been described to some people."
Conway has not disappointed, winning five of six races over his calendar. The only race he lost came at the Brown County Eagle Classic, where he got gapped by seven seconds to Brebeuf Jesuit's Cameron Todd, a returning All-American from Champs Sports Nationals.
Conway is starting to build a penchant for winning.
"As the race gets bigger, I'm not going to shy away from that at all," he said. "I'm not scared to say I think I can run with anybody. As races get bigger, my energy will only get bigger."
That success isn't lost on Conway, who lost the back-half of his season last year after he ruptured the achilles in his right foot ...on the same course, Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, where he set a career best on Sept. 16 at Trinity/Valkyrie.
Conway toughed out the rest of his junior season in 2022, helping Floyd Central qualify for states before he finished 76th at Indiana's championships. But he wasn't the same runner. He got an MRI, learned he had no tear and only inflamed tissue, and then shut it down after the season, putting his foot in a boot for a short time.
"He didn't get to where he wanted to be," said Tim Korte, Conway's coach. "At the state meet, he didn't get to showcase himself. But there was no way we didn't think he wasn't top three in the state."
Korte has been coaching at Floyd Central for 24 years, the last 22 as the head coach. He graduated from the school in 1997, and ran for the program. Today, he teaches biology. He says Conway is the best runner the school has ever produced, hands down.
"There isn't a comparison," Korte said. "When he walks out and is done, he's going to have all the records. He's already taken every record except the 800m in track."
Perhaps the time off was a good thing. It may have imparted some important lessons to Conway.
"I learned how much I loved the sport," he said. "I also learned what I was willing to do to be healthy and fast."
There was a lot of physical therapy, a lot of aqua jogging and a lot of working back on the same rubber-track every single day. For 10 months, he couldn't run on grass or trails, and even today he avoids single-track trails like the plague.
But in February, just four months out from his injury, he tested it out his legs, clocking times of 4:19.92 in the mile and 9:07.69 in the 2-mile. The latter race he ran away from his competition.
"It's really hard to get him to ever completely step away," Korte said.
By the outdoor season, Conway was running more often. He opened in April at Arcadia -- running a solid 9:02.11 -- and then ran 4:05.72 in the 1,600m in May, out-dueling pseudo rivals Aaron and Aidan Lord of New Albany, who ran 4:07.81 and 4:14.90.
"That was huge for me," he said. "It was my best race."
At state, Conway put in a devastating move in the 3,200m that distanced himself from the field, only for it to come back to him. He finished fourth, behind Kole Mathison, Anthony Provenzano and Ryan Rheam, then he ran 8:59.40 for 2-miles at Nike Outdoor Nationals.
"From there we shut it down, took a break and started to get ready for cross country," he said.
This fall, over a year past his injury, Conway has been the best version of himself. He opened with a big win in Illinois on Detweiller, followed with another at the Valley Kick-Off, and then went head-to-head with Todd, who many consider the athlete to beat in Indiana.
Conway has put himself right there up with the best in the state -- and as far as time is concerned, he's also among the fastest in the nation.
But the road ahead is now up to him. An Indiana state title is not guaranteed, especially with the likes of Todd, Provenzano and upstarts like Sam Quagliaroli and Matthew Kim.
Neither is a national qualification.
But racing with confidence? With love? Passion?
"As the race gets bigger, I'm not going to shy away from that at all. I'm not scared to say I think I can run with anybody. As races get bigger, my energy will only get bigger."
Not everyone has that. Not everyone loves to race, or enjoys the rewards of winning.
Conway embraces those elements, he says, because he works so hard for it.
"I feel like a lot of people don't have fun," he said. "You see kids winning races and the emotion of the doesn't change after they race. Watch basketball, football, all these sports where the players are making big money. They're going berserk when they make a big play.
"...the feeling of being good and trash talking and throwing your hands up when you win, it's an unmatched feeling," Conway added. "Making the sport fun is something that's very important to me."
Korte tiptoes around the line of letting Conway be him and also giving wisdom.
"That's the hardest part sometimes, of me letting him be him," Korte said. "It's foreign to me. But it's a big part of his persona."
Right now, there's no plans to cut the mullet.
"My mom likes it, my girlfriend likes it," Conway said. "I feel like a lot of people like it. If i started not to like it, I will cut it. I like it now."