By Steve Williams
When Jake Renfree crossed the finish line far ahead of the other Region 2 cross country runners last fall, he didn’t stop running. He immediately made a 180 degree right turn and headed back from where he came.
It was an unusual sight at first, but Knoxville Catholic High Coach Sean O’Neil later explained what Jake was doing.
“He was running back to cheer for his teammates,” said O’Neil.
In a nutshell, that’s Jake.
Success hadn’t spoiled Renfree. And Jake had had a lot of it in a very short amount of time at the end of his junior cross country season when he broke out on the regional and national scene.
Jake was seeded 50th in the Foot Locker South Regional on Thanksgiving weekend in 2017 and only the Top 10 would qualify for the prestigious nationals. Renfree placed eighth and even more surprisingly went on to finish fifth in the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego.
After winning the 1600 run at the TSSAA state outdoor meet in Murfreesboro the following May, Renfree continued to succeed in cross country his senior year, winning the KIL meet for the first time and defending his region title at Victor Ashe Park. That’s the day I saw him cross the finish line and then race back to root home his teammates.
Renfree went on to win the state Nov. 3 at Percy Warner Park in Nashville and went back to the Foot Locker Nationals and took second place. Soon after, he was named to the U.S. Junior National team that competed in Scotland in January.
Renfree has been a team guy at Catholic and O’Neil believes that quality in him will live on at Notre Dame.
“Jake loves being on a team, and runs his best when he feels like he is running for others,” said O’Neil.
As great as his experience at the state cross country meet was last fall, he really wanted to have the team there with him, said O’Neil, and really worked to help the team stay focused and motivated as it approached the region meet.
“He took it pretty hard when we didn’t qualify (as a team),” said O’Neil.
Another example of Renfree’s love for team competition surfaced in the Foot Locker competition.
“It’s really a race of individuals, but they still score it by region like a cross country meet,” pointed out O’Neil. “If you watch Jake’s interviews from after the race, he kept saying that he wanted to help the South team do well. That was a huge motivating factor for him.”
The team concept also was a factor in Renfree choosing to sign with Notre Dame.
“One of the things that really appealed to him about Notre Dame is that the coach talked about having a sense of pride in running for the team, running for Notre Dame,” said O’Neil. “Jake thrives in that kind of environment, and was immediately drawn there for that reason.”
Renfree’s love for the team approach is still high on his list of importance and surfaced in the KIL meet a couple of weeks ago when Jake not only ran and won the 800, 1600 and 3200-meter races, but also ran the anchor leg on Catholic’s 4×400 relay team, which placed fifth.
“Jake will be running in the 800 and 1600, and also running the 4×400 relay,” replied Coach O’Neil, when asked what Renfree would be running in the Large School Sectionals state qualifying meet that were scheduled this past weekend.
“We don’t expect the relay to make it to state, but without Jake on it they would not have even made it to sectionals,” said O’Neil.
But Renfree wasn’t about to give up on the team.
In a nutshell, that’s Jake.