More than anything else, Chris Wilcoxson wants his son to be healthy.
At the same time, though, he would be the first to admit that he can’t control his urges.
Being an insufferable, nagging parent is one thing. When both your dad and your coach are constantly cross-examining you, the situation becomes even more awkward.
"I think he got sick of me pestering him," Wilcoxson said.
Father and son are feeling a bit more at ease these days. The coach does too.
And all "three" of them will finally get to reap the rewards after months of never-ending chivvying.
That’s because the first-year Cuyahoga Falls’ coach has his man right where he wants him to be.
They’ve been celebrating at the same address ever since.
Senior Jack Wilcoxson advanced to the Division I state cross country meet, thanks to a stellar performance last Saturday.
The 17-year-old distance marvel finished 14th at the Youngstown regional competition at Boardman High School. Jack crossed the finish line in a time of 16 minutes, 33.05 seconds.
The top 32 runners from Boardman advanced to the state meet, which is scheduled to take place this Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. The Division I boys’ race is set to begin at 3 p.m.
The younger Wilcoxson will be making his second visit to Hebron. He placed 121st at the 2017 state meet.
For Jack, that race might seem like eons ago. Perhaps as far back as the Middle Ages if you mentioned it to the snakebitten senior.
"It was really tough," Jack said. "I knew how important running was to me. It made me realize how much I love it."
As most people know, love can be both beautiful and powerful. It also can be fickle and cruel.
Jack learned the latter the hard way.
Due to a nagging hip injury, the embattled teen has resembled a sloth rather than a pronghorn antelope for what seems like forever.
If he tried to put his legs in fifth gear, Jack’s engine was in danger of shutting down. Therefore, all he could do was park himself in the garage.
"He fractured his growth plates in his hips," said Chris, who took over the Black Tigers this fall after longtime head coach Bob Koch retired. "There was nothing he could do. I think it was a combination of him growing and pounding hard. That’s where it all started."
Jack merely shrugged when he first felt uncomfortable. Unless you’re a machine, running a 5K race in less than 17 minutes isn’t possible without a trace of agony.
Thus, Jack ran on a part-time basis last year before shutting it down in October.
"It progressively got worse over time," he said. "I didn’t realize it was that serious. I tried to train through it because I didn’t think it was too bad. It definitely could have gotten worse if I ignored it."
For the most part, the pain disappeared when the 2019 season began. But Jack knew better.
Sure, it was his senior year and he dreaded seeing it go to waste. Nevertheless, he also knew the most extravagant accolades would be achieved after Halloween rather than before Labor Day.
The coach was getting fidgety, though. And if the coach gets antsy, so does the old man.
"We had some words," Chris said. "I kept asking him, ‘Are you ready? When are you running? How do you feel?’ I don’t have his patience."
Not surprisingly, the young apprentice turned out to be quite the soothsayer when it came to his own body.
Jack proved once again that a certain old saying is 100-percent true: Patience is a virtue.
"I had a really good track season," Jack said. "At the beginning of summer training, I felt great. But then I had some nagging aches and pains. Something didn’t feel exactly right. I was a little paranoid. I was more focused on running in November than August."
Jack didn’t make his second home on the couch while his teammates were toiling on the trails.
He stayed active by working his leg muscles both in the pool and on a bicycle.
"I trust Jack," Chris said. "He is mature beyond his years. It was baby steps. It was the same way with all my guys."
Jack finally felt like his old self at the Galion Cross Country Festival, which took place Sept. 14.
Sticking to his original plan, he didn’t push it.
"I decided I wouldn’t race it," Jack said. "I used it as a workout."
That "workout" sure looked suspicious. That’s because the result was absolutely astonishing.
"I ran a 16:39, which was awesome," Jack said. "I took the next week off and when we got to Stow, I wanted to race it as hard as I could."
Three weeks later, Jack finished the Stow Bulldog Cross Country Invitational without pain.
But that didn’t make Jack particularly cheerful. As a matter of fact, he was deeply distraught.
"I ran a 16:40," Jack said. "I had a few doubts at that point. I was thinking, ‘How do I cruise and then when I run as hard as I can, my time is still 16:40?’ I had to get my head in the right place."
Fortunately, that’s exactly what he did. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
Thanks to a pair of top-10 finishes to go along with his brilliant effort at the always fierce Youngstown regional, Falls’ blonde-haired "Jackrabbit" is back where he belongs.
"I’m very happy that I made it," Jack said. "When I made it my sophomore year, I knew there was no excuse for me not to be there again. I put a lot of pressure on myself."
So how did the the Black Tigers’ 5K maestro navigate his way through a horde of Peregrine falcons?
Sticking to his plan, of course.
Using patience as his method of operation, Jack stayed in contact with many of the top runners in the first mile, shifted to cruise control in the second mile and then floored the gas pedal for much of the third mile.
"He ran a smart race," Chris said. "He settled back in the second mile and went from 21st to 14th in the last half mile of the race. He knew exactly where he needed to be."
Jack wasn’t the only one wearing a black and gold tank top at Boardman.
Sophomore Koby Dunford and senior Anthony Nichols also participated in the race for Falls.
Dunford, who was the Black Tigers’ most consistent runner throughout the season, finished 109th in 17:31.33.
Nichols, the team’s top runner for much of last year, ended his career in 138th place (17:50.54).
"It wasn’t Koby’s best race by any means, but he’ll be a top-30 guy next year, for sure," Chris said. "[Junior] Lukas Keverkamp is right on his heels. Both of them are going to be my guys next year.
"Anthony had a couple of little problems that put him behind the eight ball. He’s a huge example of doing enough to keep your base. That’s how Anthony made it to regionals. To show up and finish 15th at districts [the previous week], that’s being a senior. I appreciate that."
As for Jack, another 121st-place finish won’t cut it.
Yes, the determined teenager is going to savor the moment — as long as it involves an All-Ohio finish.
"I’m definitely a million times happier than I was a month ago," Jack said. "I feel like I haven’t had my best race yet. I’m pleased, but I’m definitely not satisfied."
It’s a safe bet his coach is satisfied. It’s likely his father is too.
However, Jack won’t be getting a hug from his coach when his final high school race is completed.
This moment belongs to dad and dad only.
First, last and always.
"I’m very proud of Jack," Chris said. "He’s a great kid. I love watching him run. I’m so glad I introduced him to the sport. I’m lucky he’s mine."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.