A small figure came rolling into view, around the last corner and down the home stretch, 100 meters of green stretched out in front of him.
The kid with the trademark headband and glasses was closing in on another impressive victory at the Schaumburg sectional.
Contact information ( * required )
It was business as usual for Prospect senior Quentin Shaffer, who has emerged as one of the favorites heading into Saturdays Class 3A cross country state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
After transferring to Prospect from Tavares, a small town in central Florida, in his sophomore year, Shaffer has joined the ranks of the elite runners in Illinois and is poised for a big finish.
"He's fresh, he's new, he's exciting," said Prospect hall of fame coach Mike Stokes. "Quentin floats -- but he stings hard."
Shaffer mostly worked out of the limelight last fall, but came on strong at the end in helping Prospect finish sixth in Class 3A.
The Knights junior had his true coming out party last spring at the Loyola track sectional, where he outkicked Loyola senior William Hague to win the title in 9:17.78, which was the ninth-fastest sectional time in Class 3A.
Shaffer carried that momentum through to this cross country season, as he won Peoria Central Invite in late September to win in 14:28, tying O'Fallon junior Patrick Perrier for the second-fastest time on the Detweiller course this season, just one second of the top performance by Belvidere North senior Garrett Lee (14:27).
And Shaffer continued his rise during the postseason, winning Mid-Suburban League, Hoffman Estates regional and Schaumburg sectional titles on consecutive weekends.
Now Shaffer is in the thick of the hunt for a state title. Joining him are St. Ignatius senior Jack Keelen, O'Fallon senior Alex Riba, Oswego senior Caleb Beck and Perrier.
Not bad for a kid who was soaking up the Florida sun just two years ago.
"Yeah, it does surprise me," said Shaffer of his rise to prominence. "If you told me I would have become this good when I started sophomore year, I wouldn't believe you. It's crazy. I owe it all to Stokes and everything he has done training-wise."
But talent and training alone usually aren't enough to win a state title. A little of the right kind of attitude is also helpful -- and Shaffer, despite his tranquil appearance, has an edge.
It showed on the summer trip at Devils Lake in Wisconsin, where the Knights team played king of the hill on a platform in the lake. More times than not Shaffer would come out on top; showing his competitive spirit.
"He was ruthless," said senior teammate Michael Leet of Shaffer's dominance. "He's the most competitive person I know. Every time we get into an argument, he argues all the way to the point where it's not even worth winning."
"He's a tough cookie," said Stokes. "He has a lot, he's light, but he's serious and he's nasty inside."
Shaffer is also a smart racer. At the MSL meet, he executed the race perfectly by surging at the mile-and-a-quarter mark to shake the field, then continuing to extend his advantage until the end. The result was a comfortable 12-second cushion.
At the sectional meet, Shaffer had a bit of company as Lake Forest senior Billy Bund hung tight with him for virtually the entire race.
But Shaffer didn't panic, conserving his energy until exploding the final 300 meters to secure the title.
"Shaffer has a kick, he has brains, and he has talent," Stokes said. "But most importantly, he listens.
"There is a certain amount of trust between an athlete and a coach. We certainly have developed it. I think he is untapped, and I think we're just getting started."
Stokes surely knows what he is talking about, having coached nine all-state runners, including state runner-up Lou Petrica (1994) and Ryan Craven (2005).
"I trust him fully with anything he tells me," Shaffer said of Stokes. "All my training has helped execute my race plans."
Shaffer is hoping to join that list of Knights elite runners in Peoria. He was seven seconds off Craven's state course time (14:21) at the Peoria Central meet and he is hoping to eclipse that standard this weekend.
"Stokes always talks highly about how good they were," said Shaffer of the various Prospect standouts. "It feels good to have my name in the midst of them."
Shaffer also is gtting it done in the classroom, sporting a 4.2 G.P.A. on a weight 5.0 scale.
He's a big fan of the school's football and soccer teams, and he's become affectionately known as "Frames" for his trademark glasses. He has quickly found a comfortable place in the Prospect scene.
He has come a long way since Prospect track coach Mike Kamedula spotted his talent in sophomore gym class, and with a nudge from his parents, Rob and Shannon, Shaffer quickly bought into the Knights' program.
So, what can we expect this weekend on the biggest of stages at the Class 3A state meet?
"What place? don't know," said Stokes who is circling a 14:10 finishing time. "If you lose to someone with that time, you still win.
"Everybody wants first. We just have to go down with a plan and with confidence. He has the tools and he's one of the best runners in state -- no question."
His rapid transformation from a no-name to a title contender is quite impressive, but Shaffer knows what is at stake on Saturday.
"I'd love to win it," added Shaffer. "I've run the race times, so it does give me confidence. But it will come down to tactical racing -- it will come down to the small things."