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Madras High School wrestling head coach Brad Padgett will be taking on a new role - and a new sport - this upcoming season.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Brad Padgett, who has been the head wrestling coach at Madras High School since 2019, is taking over the school's cross country program.

After spending the past few years coaching other sports, Brad Padgett was ready for another challenge.

So, when the cross country head coach job opened at Madras High School, Padgett ran headlong toward the opportunity.

Padgett spends his winters as the head wrestling coach at MHS, and he has spent the past few autumns as an assistant football coach at the high school. However, that gig took up a lot of his time — time Padgett would prefer to spend with his son. The cross country job at MHS came open last month when former coach Jessica Swagger took over as the new principal of Bridges High School in Madras.

"I'm really excited," said Padgett. "I love learning new things, figuring things out. I won't be a pro right off the bat, but I have really good people to reach out to when I have questions."

Among those connections, says Padgett, are Brian Martz, a former MHS cross country coach with more than 30 years of experience, and Mario Mendoza Jr., a world-class distance runner who works closely with communities in Jefferson County.

"I'm humble enough to take their say on things," Padgett added.

Though he did not run cross country in high school, nor has he coached the sport previously, Padgett enters this new role with a confident optimism.

"With my background in physiology and exercise science, I know how to train a body," said Padgett, who is a health and physical education teacher at the high school. "A sport is a sport."

He has not yet met with the team, but Padgett looks forward to working with a new group of athletes. He is also hopeful that some of his students from P.E. class — especially those that don't already play another fall sport — will come out and join cross country.

"I wanted to open up more avenues for kids who aren't doing a fall sport to do one," said Padgett. "Also, for the wrestlers who don't particularly like football or soccer to feel like they can be connected in with a fall sport. I have a lot of kids that I work with in the weight room that don't do any other sports. I just want to give kids more avenues to be involved in the school."

Good conditioning is a requirement for just about every sport, so the extra running could give athletes a leg-up in other sports. A recent, local example of this interconnectedness can be seen at nearby Culver High School. The boys cross country team won a district title last season, and three of the Bulldogs' top five finishers later competed for the CHS wrestling team — including district champion and state runner-up Debren Sanabria.

Now, Padgett is hoping for a similar success story to take place at Madras High.

As for the overhead costs of starting a new sport, Padgett notes that cross country running is easier to pick up than many others because it doesn't require specialized equipment or apparatuses, nor does it even require another person to compete with or against. Rather, the basic requirements are a good pair of shoes and a healthy dose of hard work and determination.

"Having to run through a trail, chasing after somebody to win, getting up a hill in the last mile," began Padgett, "you have to have some sort of grit."

Last season, two White Buffalo runners in particular — Hannah MacDuffee and Isaiah Wapsheli — showed off their grit as they made it to the state championships after posting top times in the district meet. Both will be back as seniors in the fall, providing a solid, veteran foundation on which the program can build.

That said, MacDuffee and Wapsheli made up more than a quarter of the entire MHS cross country program last year. Only seven athletes laced up for the White Buffalos in 2021 — three boys and four girls — without enough in either gender to field a full team. So, while each runner were able to chase after an individual state championship, Madras was shut out from the get-go from winning any team titles.

Padgett is hopeful for higher participation numbers this season, though, which could revive the possibility a team championship for Madras. And while increased exercise and conditioning are surely positive byproducts of running cross country, he wants more than that for the team — and it will likely take another healthy dose of grit to reach those goals.

"We're not running with a mindset of 365 days; we're running for a season, because a state medal is what we want," said Padgett. "Some 'owies' and 'boo-boos' might have to be dealt with and run with, instead of taking time off. You only have a season."

"I'm just excited to get started," he added, "and to see where we can go as Madras."

The cross country season begins next month, with the first official practices starting Aug. 15 and the first contest date set for Aug. 25, per OSAA rules.

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