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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Grind Just Routine For Mansfield Junior

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Pictured Mansfield athlete John Branche offers a smile whether at football practice, McDonald’s, or cross country practice

The alarm blasts its annoying sound at 7:00 AM. After a quick shower and a grab and go breakfast, Mansfield junior, John Branche, dives headfirst into a day that few his age could handle.

Rolling into the school parking lot in his newly restored 2002 Ford Ranger by 7:45 AM, Branche starts a full day of activities that includes football practice, work at a local McDonald’s restaurant, and cross country practice. To say the all-around Tiger teammate is a busy man is stating the obvious.  

Right now, football practice for the sixteen-year-old Mansfield student begins at 8:00 AM and lasts for two hours. It’s home from there for a second shower and change of clothes for a noon drive to Greenwood for his crew member’s job at McDonald’s. By 7:00 PM, his third change of clothes signals a return trip to Mansfield for cross country practice.

A bit like the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray in which the lead character repeats the same day, Branche has the same basic day at least three times a week.

“I get done about 8:45 (PM),” Branche revealed after a typically long day, and following a race paced long-distance run at cross country practice. “I go home, shower, sleep, and start the process over the next day.”

Branche says what inspires him as much as anything to keep up with the busy routine is his mother and father’s encouragement. 

“The thing that motivates me is my parents,” the dual-sport athlete and part-time employee exclaimed. “They push me beyond my limits to be the best that I can be. My future is college and that motivates me as well.”

The heavy grind and the lack of free time doesn’t seem to dissuade Branche from his chosen path. At least that’s how the player’s high school cross country coach sees it. 

“I saw a characteristic in John along about his eighth-grade year that made me realize he had real merit,” John Mackey, Mansfield’s cross country and track coach said. “He perseveres. He has a vision towards the future and understands that sometimes a difficult path is required to get there.”

One of the obstacles the eleventh grader has learned to endure since joining cross country a few seasons ago has been the lack of a consistent men’s team. That particular unit has battled the numbers game with limited athletes willing to fill the five-man roster.

“We’ve teetered with a full men’s roster for a few years now,” Mackey explained. “John came through junior high with a full team but since entering high school that group has dwindled with natural attrition, eligibility issues, and commitments to other sports.”  

Again, Branche has been unwavering in his commitment to the cross country core.

“The experience of being one of only two senior high cross country runners is definitely a good one,” Branche asserted. “I think Ashton (Hinkle) and I motivate each other. We push each other in practice.”

Ashton Hinkle, a talented sophomore runner, moved up to the senior high squad midway through his freshman year last season. The strategic move allowed Mansfield a five-man scoring squad before the conference finals. That core five looked to return this season until the pandemic and other circumstances left only two men remaining.

Unable to achieve team accolades because of the mandated five player rule, Branche still set a goal for the upcoming season.

When asked about one of his sports goals for the upcoming season, Branche exclaimed. “My goal for cross country is to be an All-State runner.” 

His answer to that goal question came about 30 minutes after he ran a 3-mile test in under 19 minutes at cross country practice. It was also about 12 hours after he lifted weights, ran receiver drills, and conditioned at an 8:00 AM football practice. Oh yeah, it also came about 90 minutes after his shift ended from a non-stop work pace at McDonald’s, a place where he looks to be a crew trainer before summer ends.

Once school begins, the motivated player will add a blended learning regimen to his already busy schedule. Meanwhile, he will continue his three-pronged approach to each day. 

Practice football with the boys in the morning. Serve smiles and fries to masked customers through the afternoon. Run lots of miles with the girls and guys distance teams in the evenings. Go home, shower, sleep, and repeat.

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