Zander Souza: Runnin’ the pack

Crimson Newsmagazine May 2012

Sinead Schouten ‘12 is one of the best sports writers in the history of the school, winning awards nationally (NSPA Superior) and statewide (First Place) for pieces like these. She was a double 5 on her English APs, too.

Sinead Schouten ‘12 is one of the best sports writers in the history of the school, winning awards nationally (NSPA Superior) and statewide (First Place) for pieces like these. She was a double 5 on her English APs, too.

Not a lot can happen in .26 seconds, but senior Zander Souza found an exception. In this half of a breath, bit of a blink, Souza broke a school record and crowned a 2011 junior track season.

That was only the beginning.

1:56.30 became 1:56.04, and the 800 meter time fell. It was a feat many spend a career dreaming about, but administrators barely had time to fix his name and time into the Gil Asa Gym displays. Only a year later, the mile record was also shattered.

Souza always has been an overachiever on the track, after all.

“You go for that record because it’s a good goal to have. But for me and the other guys on the team, it’s just about bettering your personal times. The two goals just happen to match up,” the varsity veteran said. “It’s still weird to think that I’m the fastest miler, fastest half-miler that Paso High has ever had. The school has been around for about 100 years. It’s pretty crazy.”

Although the years have morphed Souza from a lion-haired freshman to a buzz cut senior, the smile and up-beat attitude remains the same. But there was a time the star wasn’t leading the pack on the track – or even had a spot on the varsity roster, for that matter.

Souza went out for the Bearcat cross country team his freshman year, unaware that the squad practices through summer.

“The first week of school,” Souza recalled, “I came out here with my long hair, wearing pants, and I first met [head coach Ivan] Huff. He said to me, ‘Yeah, you can be on the team. Ready to run?’ But I didn’t have any of my gear with me. I was totally embarrassed and unprepared.”

Running was no longer a social party. By only the second workout of the season, Souza experienced “the hardest run of [his] life,” weaving exhaustingly along the river bed and being forced to take walk breaks. It was a shock to the system after years of 57 second 400s, dominating the middle school competition. Things were completely different.

It was a slow climb to the top; countless hours of running were clocked in. But as every athlete knows, it only takes one break out night to change everything.

“I was pretty average all during freshman year,” Souza said. “And then all of a sudden, at the last meet, I was on JV and won League. Everyone looked at me like, ‘What the hell?’ We were all surprised.”

Although his coach begs to differ.

“From his freshman year I knew he had some talent. He ran cross country, did pretty well, but it was his first year in track that he had quite a bit of success,” Huff said, who has been a PRHS coach for generations. “I was looking forward to the next three years, and they’ve turned out like I actually imagined.”

Souza thrived in the following seasons, 4 PAC-7 League titles and 6 visits to CIF. An all-around athlete, he ran everything from the exhausting 3000m to anchor of the 4x100m relay.

Quickly becoming a local standout, it wasn’t long until Souza proved his name was here to stay. As times fell, so did the records, and a legacy was created that hadn’t been seen since former Bearcat distance star Travis Hallanan.

“He is very intense, very competitive, doesn’t like to lose. That’s a good quality,” Huff said, who continued to help his runner rise through the ranks. Things became more serious when the recruitment letters started coming in. One in particular stood out: Sac State.

“They really knew me because it said, ‘Zander,’” Souza said, who prefers his middle name to his given one of Jordan.

While he had received letters from other interested colleges, they had all been addressed to generic titles like “Dear Prospective Athlete” or “Your Son/Daughter.” It was Sac State that knew his nickname, and that he wasn’t “just another number out of a whole mass of people.” It was then the deal was sealed.

After an official campus visit, including a stop by the Olympic-quality track facility, Souza met a future teammate: Arroyo Grande High School runner Emily Johnson. As the two hit it off fantastically, he emailed hellos to roommate DJ Jackson, unaware that introductions were unnecessary. The pair had met two years prior at West Coast Relays during the 800m, where Souza squeaked a win out of a “dead sprint to the finish line.”

All the track kids are slated for neighboring rooms on the third floor, one big happy family.

Everything was falling into place. The future Hornet is currently looking forward to making the most out of his freshman year. But although he has five more years of running ahead – and hopefully a professional sponsorship afterwards – there will be one crucial person missing trackside.

When Souza describes his friendship with Huff as “the best relationship the universe has ever seen,” it has to be special.

“Everyone calls him ‘Huff Dad,’” Souza explained, and the license plate of the coach’s truck is the seven-lettered nickname. “As me and my teammates got to know him, I thought Huff Dad meant that he was an important coach. Now that I’m going to be graduating and he won’t be my coach anymore, I know what Huff Dad means. It’s literal.”

And thanks to Huff Dad and a natural helping of talent, the many miles ahead look bright.

“Track is the one thing I want to do,” declared Souza. “You know how people say things like, ‘What do you do? Who are you?’ Well, every time I’m lying in bed at night, all I think about is track.”

Now life’s perhaps a dream come true.

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