PENDLETON — Most weekends this fall Lathan Alger has worn two different hats for the Pendleton Buckaroos — one a sparkling gold helmet and the other a numbered race bib. Just 15 hours after Alger’s Bucks football team squeaked out a playoff win over Milwaukie 19-12 in the Round-Up Grounds Friday night, the senior faced a different kind of competition in Eugene with another Pendleton squad: the boys’ cross country runners.
After the game, Alger traded in his route running as wide receiver for just plain running: a mild-mannered runner by day and a pass-catching superhero by night. Over the weekend, he competed in postseason play in each sport, helping the Bucks make the state playoffs’ round of 16 on the gridiron and the cross country team to place 10th at the Class 5A State Cross Country Championships.
“I’ve been doing it all season, but I didn’t know I’d have to do it on such a big scale as a playoff game and state (meet),” Alger said Saturday after the race. He placed 53rd — toward the middle of the pack.
The senior runner picked up a little less than five hours of bed sleep before reconvening with the rest of the Pendleton team at Lane Community College, a fact that worried his cross country coach Nicole Stewart. Proper rest is crucial for a big race, she said.
“I felt fine (Saturday) morning actually,” Alger said. “I think just the fact of being at state kept me awake.”
This weekend wasn’t the quickest turnaround Alger’s experienced this fall, though. There have been times when he’s hardly had a chance to rest and get in a meal before athletics called again.
“He’s ran before and then played in a football game in the same day,” Pendleton coach Mitch Sanders said. “So we know it’s not an issue.”
On Sept. 2, Alger ran in the Pendleton High Icebreaker before meeting up with his football teammates in Kennewick for a game that night.
Sanders has never worried about his star receiver struggling because of the double-dipping. Cross country actually helps him on the field. Alger’s endurance exceeds that of most defenders that pair up against him and he thanks his daily running and the strong cardio workouts.
“I tend to run a lot of deeper routes and in a game, I can do it over and over and over again,” Alger said.
And the benefits go both ways.
“Toward the end of cross country races, it comes down to who can sprint the fastest,” he said. “You kind of have to act like somebody’s behind you trying to catch you, tackle you.”
With the state cross country meet and his days as a runner at Pendleton over, Alger can finally focus all of his attention on one sport — a near foreign concept, he said. The Bucks football team will play at Lebanon this Friday at 7 p.m. in postseason action.
Alger said he’s a little relieved that the cross country season has finished. All the activity takes its toll on a young body. A constant competitor, though, it’s not quite time to let the Bucks’ cross country team go.
“It would be nice to keep running a little more,” he said.