CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cabell Midland cross country head coach Chris Parsons has had a front row seat for one of the best shows in any sport the Mountain State has had to offer during the last few years.
Parsons has been front and center (and sometimes leading the pack on an all-terrain vehicle) for the career of the Knights' Jacob Burcham, who today has the opportunity to win his third consecutive Class AAA individual cross country championship at Midland's home course in Ona.
"It's almost like getting a gift handed to you. With him, there's not a question he's got the natural ability," Parsons said. "He's got a special gift but he works hard. If he didn't work hard he wouldn't be on the national scene. He's one of those special types of kids that will probably never step through these doors at Cabell Midland again."
Only one other male, North Marion's Aaron Toothman from 1994-96, has won three individual titles. Fairmont Senior's Margaret Blake is the only female to win three titles (1982-84), but she could also be getting company as St. Mary's Maggie Drazba goes for her third win at the state meet after first-place finishes in 2009 and last year.
"I try to stay focused for now," Burcham said. "Maybe when I'm done running I'll look back at that but I'm still running now."
The top college running programs have been all over the recruiting trail for a shot at Burcham. Among the list of schools trying to secure a commitment from the Midland star are Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Oklahoma and defending NCAA champion Wisconsin.
"There's not a college powerhouse in the nation that hasn't contacted us or come to visit him," Parsons said.
Burcham said he's interested in finding a school that not only has a strong running program but also one that features a good engineering school.
"[Engineering] is not the most important thing but it's in the top two or three most important things," Burcham said.
He said the other things that will play into his decision are how well he can mesh with the team, the coach and the location of the school.
Perhaps more important to Burcham than another individual honor - and he has received plenty of them during his time at Cabell Midland - is a team championship that eluded the Knights last season after winning consecutive Class AAA titles in 2009 and 2010.