Manny Velasquez says everyone had forgotten about him.
His sophomore and junior cross country and track seasons had been destroyed by three stress-fractures and a fractured foot, and even those that wondered if he might be a factor again didn't know what to expect.
Velasquez vowed to himself 2013 would be "my comeback season." It was just that for this year's Broward County boys' cross country Runner of the Year.
The St. Thomas Aquinas senior finished fourth at the Class 4A state meet in a career-best time of 15:33 to lead the Raiders' boys to the first team state title in program history. Two weeks later, on the same course in Tallahassee, he won an all-star meet for the state's top seniors.
"It was really rewarding," Velasquez said of his senior season. "To come to states and make a statement was great not just for me, but for the whole team. This state race is one we had talked about for so long – not just months, but years. We knew we had a chance to win this year."
Velasquez, who ran a PR of 16:24 as a freshman at Douglas, said he never doubted he'd return from two years of injuries.
"It was horrible. I hated it. But instead of giving up I had to use it as motivation to get back up," he said. "You don't really know how bad you want something until you lose it. It made me more hungry to win."
Velasquez, who plans to run in college and said he's early in the recruiting process, made his presence known in this season's first meet, the University of Florida's Mountain Dew Invitational.
"That was my breakout meet," Velasquez said. "Everyone was like, 'He's back!'"
Velasquez went on the win the BCAA championship (15:57) and finished fourth (16:11) at regionals.