CONYERS - When Heritage cross country coach Brian Smith first saw Jake Hudson in the fall of 2005, he didn't exactly see an all-state athlete.
As a freshman, Hudson began running for the Patriots, eventually becoming one of the most important runners on the team.
For Hudson, also a member of Heritage's track team, it was a four-year process of hard work that led to him being named the Citizen's 2009 Heritage Athlete of the Year.
"(Hudson) was always a talented athlete (but) he earned his way each year," Smith said. "For longer distances, it was a gradual progress. He steadily improved; he didn't cut corners."
The hard work extended past the fall into last summer, when the Patriots visited Furman University for a camp.
Smith said the team ran two-a-days, which consisted of a run first thing in the morning and another at night. It was a taxing schedule, but one Smith said his star runner was more than capable of completing.
"That week in July. ... That's pretty grueling," Smith said. "That was a good stretch for him; he really upped his mileage."
It all paid off for Hudson last fall. He ran a time of 16 minutes, 58.92 seconds at the Class AAAA state cross country meet, securing a 10th-place individual finish and a spot on the all-state team.
It was a goal Smith said Hudson had from the moment he set foot on the Conyers campus. And his improvement - he went from 19:00 5K times as a freshman to consistently being under 17:00 his final season - helped the Patriots secure the first boys region championship in the program's history and finish fourth at the state meet, the highest boys finish in school history.
"I remember him going into (the state meet). He was so focused," Smith said. "That was his goal (to make the all-state team). Jake was a great leader for our young guys, setting the tone through workouts. He was a consummate leader (and) he was always there, ready to go."
Hudson also had plenty of success in the spring on the Heritage track team.
He helped the boys track team win the program's second region title. Smith, who coached Hudson through his first three seasons on the track team, was busy coaching the girls tennis team to a final four appearance. But that didn't mean he didn't follow Hudson's year, which included stints in the 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and a leg of the 1,600-meter relay team.
At the Class AAAA state meet, Hudson finished third (4:29.57) in the 1,600 and fourth (10:02.64) in the 3,200, scoring 11 of Heritage's 17 total points in the meet.
"Whatever he set his sights on, he accomplished," Smith said.
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com
SideBar: Past winners
Past Citizen Heritage
Athletes of the Year:
1999: Lauren Dix
2000: Brian Carr
2001: Shannon Wommack
2002: Brad Shea
2003: Tiffany Thomas
2004: David Sanders
2005: Bo Hanson
2006: Soibhan Wolcott
2007: Jewel May
2008: Mikel Hunter