Sophomore Jesse Gaines is playing football and running cross country for Maricopa High School at the same time. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By the time he graduates, sophomore Jesse Gaines may go down as one of the greatest athletes in Maricopa High School’s history.

Cross country and football could not be more different. Football requires aggression, speed and strength. Cross country requires patience, endurance and will-power. Most athletes would never consider participating in both, especially at the same time.

Jesse Gaines is not most athletes.

As a freshman, Gaines crushed MHS freshman track and field records in the 1,600- and 800-meter runs, and he earned a bronze medal at the state meet as part of the 4×800-meter relay team. Over the summer, Gaines could be seen running mile after mile through Maricopa in triple-digit heat.

That alone would gas out most athletes, but for Gaines it was just part of his summer routine that also included football practice and weight training.

“I just feel my body and see how it’s doing,” Gaines said. “I only run (cross country) on weekends. My (football) coach is against it, but my body isn’t, I guess.”

During last year’s track season, then-head coach Brad Chamberlain described Gaines as the most natural runner he’d ever seen.

His cross country coach, Heather Abel, echoed that sentiment: “Jesse doesn’t get to train with us, but he is such a natural athlete that he can run on his own. He’s been showing up on Saturdays. We’ve had him (at meets) twice, and he’s done very well.”

Gaines finished in the top five, thus earning a medal, in those Saturday competitions. Abel said Gaines is a threat to medal at every meet, and he could contend for a state championship if he ran cross country full-time.

Chamberlain and Abel aren’t the only MHS coaches who recognize Jesse’s athletic gifts.

“Jesse is a special athlete,” head football coach Chris McDonald said. “He is a different type of athlete. From a physical standpoint, he’s got all the tools. We’re still working with him on understanding football.”

Gaines is quarterback for the Rams’ junior varsity team and ran for a touchdown on the varsity team.

Much like the cross country coaches, McDonald wishes Gaines would focus his talents on just one sport. However, recognizing how gifted Gaines is, McDonald supports his decision to pursue both.

“Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t put as much wear and tear on his body as he does,” McDonald said. “Cross country and football are completely different. They’re on complete opposite ends of each other, but he’s good at both, and he’s going to excel at both.”

For Gaines, it isn’t about being a star or trailblazer.

“I’m a pretty good runner, and I like to play football,” Gaines said. “I thought this was a great opportunity to get conditioned.”

This story was published in the October issue of InMaricopa News.