The past year has been a defining one for Minnetonka Hopkins High School senior Joseph Fahnbulleh. In those 12 months, the Minnesota teenager has gone from a once-distance runner to one of the country's top sprinters.
And now he's hungry for more.
"Somebody is putting in double the amount of effort and time than I am right now so they can beat me," Fanbulleh said recently. "And that's scary because I don't know who it is, I don't know when they're putting in the time. It's just scary to find a person who is willing to do that to beat me. So for me, I'm not going to let that happen at all. Best believe I'm putting in the same amount of time -- even more."
When tracking Fanbulleh's swift rise up the ranks of the nation's top sprinters, July 2018 stands out the most.
Coming off a junior season that saw him capture the 200m title (21.35) at the Minnesota State High School League Championships in May, he decided to enter his name at the USATF Junior Olympic Championships.
But Fahnbulleh, whose team also set a state record in the 4x200 and placed second in the 4x100 at the state championships, really burst onto the scene during the qualifying rounds of the regional meets. He ran 10.54 and 21.89 at the Region 8 Championships on July 9 to advance to the National Junior Olympics.
Then on July 28, "it" happened. And "it" was the 200m final for the 17-18 years old division, where he blasted a 20.69--capturing the USATF Junior Olympic national title and setting a Minnesota state record, all while soundly winning the race by 0.30 seconds.
Oh, and Fahnbulleh was 16 years old during all of this--he was born in September 2001.
With times like those under his belt, it made the Minnesota teenager, who will be attending the University of Florida next year on scholarship, instantly one of the top returning sprinters in the nation.
Yet, even with the accolades piling on, Fahnbulleh's drive only intensified.
"I still have to put in the same amount of work as my other competitors, plus more," he said. "There is no slacking off just because I won a flimsy title, just because I ran a 20.69, just because I have a record.
Fahnbulleh's tone is reminiscent of "appropriate fear," a talking point made famous by legendary NBA coach Gregg Popovich. In a nutshell, appropriate fear is all about respecting your opponent.
And that's exactly how Fahnbulleh is approaching his final season on the oval at the high school level.
But a deep dive into his career years previously illustrates where his rise came from: It started in cross country. Fanbulleh says he started out in the seventh grade, but his coaches soon noticed that he was blazing past the others in sprint workouts and suggested a change of events.
He stuck with cross country until his junior year, and interestingly credited the sport for developing mental strength that helped soothe his nerves on the days of big meets.
Now exclusively a high-profile sprinter, cross country was replaced the past fall with training specifically focused on speed work, endurance and weight lifting.
Two weeks ago, the team was practicing start times and acceleration in the form of a 40-yard dash. Wearing just flats, Fahnbulleh said he clocked a 4.45.
"When that happened I was like, 'Okay yeah I'm in pretty good shape, acceleration-wise and speed-wise,'" he said.
Another winter workout had him feeling sharp. It began with eight repetitions of 150 meters at 21 second pace, with the paces getting faster as the weeks went on during training.
At the end of the training block, Fahnbulleh was running at 15-16 second pace without feeling tired.
He also began focusing on the weight room. A year ago, he said he maxed out at 275 pounds in the squat. Now his max is 450 pounds. Fahnbulleh, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs in at 205 pounds, is adding onto his frame.
Although some athletes have already started their outdoor season, he says he won't open until April 6.
In particular, Fahnbulleh has the Hamline Elite Meet on April 26 and the Howard Wood Dakota Relays on May 3-4 circled on his racing calendar.
Fahnbulleh says he hopes to defend his Minnesota state titles in the 100m and the 200m, and is aiming to run in the 10.2-10.3 range and the 20.4-20.5 range this season.
Right now, Houston Strake Jesuit's (TX) Matthew Boling is the leading the nation in both events with times of 10.22 and 20.58.
Fahnbulleh has taken note of Boling.
"With that, I was happy," he said. "Somebody's running times like that. Like wow, a 10.22 and a 20.5 - that's really good. I feel like it's good to keep tabs on your competitors so you know what they're doing and what times they're running."