This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
At least one thing that's indisputable about Plano senior Scott MacPherson is that he's his own man. And there's no doubt about that for at least three reasons.
First, he knows what he wants. Like when it came time for the defending Class 5A cross country state champion to get his own car. He saw a listing for a 1976 red and white Volkswagen bus some guy was selling 110 miles away in Tyler. So MacPherson got a lift down from his parents and drove the relic back himself, albeit slightly slower.
"It took two and a half hours to get there and three and a half to get back," says MacPherson, a 5-foot-9, 132-pound SchoolSports All-American. "It's not exactly a burner."
Then there's the fact that MacPherson can ably take care of himself, excelling in a wide variety of self-made meals but specializing as a grill man. And a grill man full of advice.
"You gotta cook on low — that soaks in the flavor," says MacPherson, 17, who finished 14th at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships and fourth at the Foot Locker South Regional last year. "With the grill, you gotta be patient. It takes time. My fajitas? They're the best."
Lastly, and just as important as knowing his preferences, MacPherson knows what he doesn't like.
"Convertibles driving around with the top down and the windows up," he says. "Man, that drives me crazy."
Despite his various likes and dislikes, what's arguably most noteworthy about MacPherson is that he's not feeling the pressure of expectations this season. Even after winning the Class 5A cross country state title and finishing 14th at nationals last fall. Even after winning the 3,200 meters and placing second in the 1,600 meters at the Class 5A state track meet this past spring.
However, his distinct lack of jitters is easily explained.
"Usually, going into any race I have something on my mind I want to go after," says MacPherson, whose time of 15:30 at nationals last year tied for the best among non-seniors, making him a serious national title contender this season. "I'm the only one who can get me there. To show what you've got, you run as fast as you can as long as you can. And if somebody wants to beat you, they've got to run with you or past you."
Tim Eshleman, Plano's 11th-year cross country and track coach, insists it's not that simple.
"He's the most humble kid I've ever met, and he's the most natural distance runner I've ever coached," says Eshleman, 49, a former half-miler at Lewisville High. "He's got an effortless stride, a great work ethic and he draws everyone around him to be better. He's a once-in-a-lifetime runner. I'll never coach a kid like this again."
What's more, it seems MacPherson has the competitive drive to match his unique ability. This guy wants it all.
"I'm pretty easily motivated because, eventually, I want to be the best," says MacPherson, who entered his junior season as a relative unknown after missing his sophomore cross country campaign due to a broken right foot. "That's always in the back of my mind, and you can always get up to train for that."
So how does a competitor so fierce and focused possess such humility? After all, success has come pretty naturally for him. He finished 11th at the Region II cross country meet as a freshman and bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore season to win state titles in both cross country and track last year, setting a new junior-class state record in the 3,200 meters (8:54.50) along the way.
But MacPherson keeps his head because he knows his place.
"I've accomplished so much and I'm very blessed, but when you look at the Olympics and you look at those guys, that'll humble you real quick," says MacPherson, who notes that he's still wide open in terms of a collegiate preference. "Compared to any of them, I haven't done diddly doo. If world records are a goal in my career, then I'm just taking baby steps right now."
It doesn't hurt that his family helps keep him grounded — a process that includes reminding him he's still capable of being a goofball. For example, a couple years ago on a training workout in the middle of the summer, MacPherson spaced out during a long, mileage-boosting run until he suddenly didn't recognize where he was.
"I was in an absolute zone and it's like 100 degrees and I'm cranking along and all of a sudden I look around and I'm in farmland," MacPherson recalls. "Well, Plano isn't that close to any farmland. I start looking at road signs and see one that says ‘Parker,' which is a couple towns over, then one for ‘Murphy,' which is closer. I knew I was headed back in the right direction, but I had no idea where I was.
"Well, something like four and a half hours after I started, I got back," he continues. "My sister was freaking out. To this day, every time I go out for a run, someone in the house says, ‘Now don't get lost, Scott.'"
If nothing else, that anecdote illustrates how thoroughly basic Scott MacPherson is. He's just a guy who loves running, happens to be exceptionally good at it and has a set of finely tuned goals as a result.
More than any other notches in his belt — even more than a Foot Locker national championship — those basics will serve MacPherson best at the next level. Wherever that may be.
"I can handle taking a step up to a level where everybody's better," he says. "Racing at top intensity prepares you for that. Racing with guys every day who can run with me or past me will only help me in the long run."