Forced out as the head football coach at Eagle Point High in January, Jacob Schauffler wasn't sure what direction he would go in the early aftermath...
Approaching the finish line tends to bring that little bit extra out of athletes, and South Medford's Kodie Artner is no different.
As his high school sporting career winds down to its final two months, the Panther senior is making the most of his talents these days on the track. Artner was named the top boy at the Medford Rotary Relays last week and on Saturday made the biggest local splash for the local runners at the Jim Robinson Twilight Invitational in Roseburg.
"This year I'm probably trying a lot harder," Artner, 18, said Monday of his breakthrough season. "I'm not slacking on the workouts and not coming off any major injuries this season. A lot of it is just about more effort by me in the workouts and putting more effort into the preseason."
"It's my senior year so I've just got to go all out," added the 5-foot-10, 155-pounder. "Last year was pretty disappointing so I'm just trying to not get beat by my friends this year."
Whatever the inspiration, Artner is certainly off to a stellar start as one of the more versatile track and field athletes in the area. From sprints to hurdles to relay events, and even a foray into the long jump along the way, Artner has provided the Panthers a competitive edge in whatever event he's entered in.
"This is his fourth year so it's always nice when you have kids actually put four years in the program and see it pay off like it is for Kodie," said South Medford head coach Mark Losinski. "He's got a lot of ability but he has worked very hard for it. Hopefully he stays healthy for the rest of the season because he's run some pretty incredible early season marks."
On Saturday, Artner turned in a pair of outstanding efforts in winning the 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles in Roseburg. His winning time of 15.21 seconds in the 110 hurdles ranks fifth in the state among all classifications thus far, and his top mark of 39.45 in the 300 hurdles ranks third in the state overall and second at the Class 6A level.
Making those numbers even more impressive is the fact that Artner only took up the 300 hurdles last year and the 110 hurdles this season.
"He ran 15.6 the first time he ran the 110 and that was kind of an eye-opener," said Losinski. "We thought he'd run fast but I thought he'd probably hit a couple hurdles. He doesn't have great hurdles technique yet but he's fast and when you're fast you can do a lot of things."
Artner said not having to face Roseburg's Korey Smith, a state champion in hurdles, likely had something to do with his sweep on Saturday but he's growing more comfortable in the events.
"I'm still learning it but it's going along pretty good," Artner said of the hurdles. "When I run them I just always say to myself that I could've improved by doing something else. My steps are not correct in the 300 and sometimes I'm going off my left foot in the last few hurdles. There's definitely room for improvement, and I'm excited about that."
Artner also has run the 100, 200 and 400 meters for the Panthers, and is part of the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. His time of 50.87 in the 400 ranks 10th in the state for all classifications and fifth at the 6A level, and Artner has teamed with Christian Bowley, Hayden Saparto and Mason Pugsley to post the eighth-best mark in 6A (43.78) for the short relay.
"Potentially he could go to state in four events," said Losinski, noting that 2010 graduate Josh Milhollin was the last Panther to accomplish such a feat.
Artner has designs on achieving a school record or two before he's through at South, and he's not far off in at least two events. He's eight-tenths of a second off the 300 hurdles mark set by Ryan Neuenschwander in 2004 (38.64) and a little under a second off Eric McKenzie's school mark in the 400 set in 1998 (49.68).
"He's just a competitor," said Losinski. "It's nice when you have kids like that and hopefully the younger kids can take some things away from being around him."
Artner missed the bulk of last season after pulling a quadriceps muscle at the Roseburg Twilight meet so it was his goal in the offseason and throughout the spring to do whatever he could to remain as healthy as possible. Beyond lifting weights and going on more runs to keep his legs in prime shape, Artner said he's incorporated a pretty lengthy stretching process into his routine.
"Every meet scares me because I don't want to pull a muscle like last year so I'm stretching like crazy all the time," he said. "A large portion of my day goes into stretching now."
The fragile nature of sprinters isn't lost on Losinski, who said he and his assistants do their due diligence to ensure they're not overworking someone like Artner. That's why the senior hasn't run in many open 400s thus far and also why they're doing their best to steer him in and out of certain events, taking into account the toll his body is taking on a weekly basis.
Even Artner said he hasn't truly gone all out yet this season, trying to avoid any slip-ups that might hamper his cause down the road.
"He's running really fast but you can tell that he hasn't quite let loose completely yet," noted Losinski. "He's running those times pretty much by himself so it's exciting to see what he can do when he gets a few more weeks of training and some more competition to run against."
It'll also be exciting to see what events Artner whittles himself down to once the district and state meets roll around. His early season hurdles success has created an abundance of options, but Artner said he's leaning toward running the 300 hurdles, the 400 and on both relay teams. He'll likely run the 100 and 200 on Wednesday when South Medford plays host to North Medford in a Southern Oregon Hybrid dual, and who knows where that might lead him as he develops a grand plan for a fitting sendoff.
"We're racing him right now to stay healthy and get some races in all his events and get some times to see what he can do," said Losinski, "but when it comes to the district meet, I'll sit down with him and decide what he wants to run. After putting in four years, I think he should be able to have a say and run what he wants to run."
Whatever the choice, it's become clear that Artner is determined to put his best foot forward for his senior season.