On Saturday morning at the Wrentham Development Center, one of the top individual rivalries in the Hockomock League had its latest chapter, as King Philip’s Mike Griffin and Franklin’s Tyler Brogan squared off at the annual league cross-country meet. Griffin took first place (by a commanding 16 seconds) for the second straight season and for the third straight fall Brogan took second.
They are two of the top distance runners not only in the Hock but in the state and both admit that having another Div. I-caliber runner (Brogan committed this week to Northeastern, while Griffin has narrowed his choices to Arizona State or Tennessee) to compete against multiple times a season, in cross-country as well as indoor and outdoor track, has propelled them to reach new levels of success.
“Having someone of that caliber of a runner to pretty much always be there to push you has made me a much better runner,” Brogan said. Although he finished second on Saturday, Brogan recently beat Griffin in an invitational meet and edged him this summer in the Tommy Cochary High School Mile in Falmouth. “Sometimes it’s frustrating where we go back-and-forth,” he added, “but the most important thing is having him has made me much more competitive and just overall a better runner.”
Griffin added, “Being able to compete with one of the other best runners in the state obviously makes me go faster.” He compared himself to other elite runners that may not have the same level of competition within their league. He said, “Because I have Brogan and because I have my teammate Mike Norberg, I have to try to win.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaches how much the rivalry has enhanced each runner’s performance and preparation.
“I think the rivalry has kept both of them sharp as neither one can really get an easy win within the league,” said Franklin cross-country coach Nicholas Bailey. “When you think that one has gotten an upper hand, the other will come right back and the roles will be swapped. It’s been a lot of fun to coach Tyler and watch this rivalry unfold over the past few years.”
The rivalry didn’t begin until the spring season of their freshman year. Brogan was a soccer and basketball player coming into high school, while Griffin made his mark as a runner immediately, finishing third at that fall’s league meet and setting freshman records. In spring track, the league got its first inkling of what a dynamic rivalry it would become.
“Cross-country freshman year, the only freshmen that could compete with me were from other states,” Griffin explained. “I remember I was doing some run with my teammates and they were like this freshman kid from Franklin gave one of the top milers in the league a run for his money and almost beat him. I was so excited because I was like, wow I have someone who’s going to be racing with me the next three years who’s my speed.”
Brogan said, “During spring track, I did really well. At the end of that season or maybe in the summer I thought, okay I like basketball and soccer but I’m not that good. I know I’m not going to college and play basketball or anything, so I started running all three seasons.”
He added, “Three years later, we still race each other all the time. I feel like we just go back-and-forth, back-and-forth every meet.”
It is a friendly rivalry. While there is always the desire to win (for instance, Brogan couldn’t contain his frustration when he spoke about his performance in Saturday’s meet), there is mutual respect. They both know that without the other, they might not have pushed as hard, might not have put in the extra time to turned potential into consistent success.
After every race, there is a moment when the two runners, no matter who came in first, come together and acknowledge how much they had to push to achieve the times that they posted.
“Even though we’re competing, even though we’re rivals, we’re doing the same exact thing and just have a lot of respect for the guys who can do what I do, put themselves through the pain of running as fast as we do, and still come out with a great result,” Griffin said.
“He’s not someone to go around and brag about winning or stuff like that,” Brogan said. “That makes it even better, someone of that caliber who does win a lot and who can maintain not being extremely cocky or showboating. There’s sometimes where I beat him, I know he won’t be sulking or anything like that.”
Both guys talked about how a love for running began in middle school with gym class miles and fitness tests. As you would expect, they both stood out among their peers. That has continued throughout their high school careers and across multiple events. Whether it is mid- or long-distance, they never seem to be far apart at the finish line.
“I have not traced their head to head record against each other over the seasons but I am willing to bet it is as close to a 50-50 split as it comes,” said KP cross-country coach Chris Elgar. “They can beat each other in every single event, which is a rarity. You usually have a situation where one excels in the shorter races while the other has the advantage in the longer races; not so with these guys.”
The expectation that a fast time is going to be needed to take first every race ups the expectation, the adrenaline, and the enjoyment of those head-to-head meetings. Not only does it help to have someone just as fast to push you to another gear, but it is also more fun.
“It definitely increases the amount of nervousness you feel,” Brogan said, “but it also increases that sense of I’m going to go out and run a good time because that’s what we all want. That’s why I like these high-level meets where these times can be fulfilled.”
It is no surprise that after facing each other so many times over the past three-plus years, Brogan and Griffin need no time to point out each other’s strengths.
“His short kick,” Griffin replied immediately when asked about Brogan’s biggest strength “If he’s able to stick on someone the whole race and you’re with him with 100 meters to go, he’s going to beat you. He has a short final kick but it is killer.” He added with a chuckle, “A lot of the times, he likes to push me to the lead and I get stuck in the lead always hearing him right on my heels.”
Brogan highlighted Griffin’s versatility, being able to excel at multiple distances, as one of his biggest strengths, but also noted his personality. “I never really see him getting nervous before races and stuff like that,” Brogan said. “They have a boombox, the KP team, and they’re always going around like that and having fun. I’m sure he still has some [nerves], but he never shows it.”
As the runners head into the final cross-country postseasons of their high school careers, the rivalry is still far from the finish line. The duo will face off numerous times over the winter and spring. Each race, their names will be the ones that draw the most attention and, most likely, will be the first two mentioned on the podium – only the order left to be decided.