He reached the final 175-yard grass stretch at Woodward Park running against only the clock, for there was nobody with him.
He split the hundreds of fans present for the end of a Central Section Division I race that wasn't, hit the finish line, pulled up and turned around.
"There was no one behind me," Madera South High senior Jose Herrera says. "I was like, 'Where is everybody at?' "
Stockdale's Blake Haney, the event's defending champion, would arrive 10 seconds later -- meaning about 150 yards behind.
Buchanan's Cody Brazeal, the previous year's silver medalist and the fastest 1,600-meter runner in section history, was another 8 seconds behind Haney.
But this wasn't about Haney and Brazeal, not this time.
There was a new sheriff in town.
"I couldn't believe it," says Herrera, The Bee's boys cross country Runner of the Year. "I beat some great runners, like Cody and Blake. I was really happy; it was great."
And improbable, really.
Herrera, recruited by Bee repeat Coach of the Year Rich Parris, only began running as a sophomore: "Just to get in shape for soccer."
But Parris immediately identified more than that: "I knew he had something in him."
The son of farm laborers from Mexico and hardened by field work in blistering Valley summer heat himself, Herrera attacked the sport with determination.
As a sophomore, he placed second in the section's D-II (16:23).
As a junior, he won D-II (15:58).
Then this season in DI and the 15:37 runaway.
And all for section-winning teams: "Three rings, that's good."
Herrera may run next for Loyola-Marymount or Fresno Pacific.
"Once I started running, I like the competition and everything, wanted to train more and get faster," he says. "It made me look at the state finishers and wonder how it would feel to be first, second or third. I didn't think I was capable of getting first.
"Now I can say I won Valley, and not many people can say that. I had a good season and I'm proud."
RUNNER OF THE YEAR: JOSE HERRERA
School: Madera South
He's qualified because: Captured the Central Section Division I title by 10 seconds with a time of 15:37 on Woodward Park's 3.1-mile course while also leading the Stallions to the team crown by 35 points over Buchanan. And this was their first season in D-I. He was the only section runner to break 15:50 three times at Woodward, also clocking 15:36 in the Rough Rider Invitational and 15:48 in the state final. He had placed second and first in the section D-II championships in 2010 and 2011 for section-winning teams.
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