COLUMBUS - It's taken a year for Jason Willman to fully recover from an injury and get back where he belongs.
Saturday, that was on the Division III state track podium - twice.
One year after being unable to even run a cool down lap after taking eighth in the 3,200, the junior claimed sixth in both the 1,600 (4:21.54) and 3,200 (9:32.85).
"It's fantastic; blessed to be able to run both. We weren't sure how it was going to turn out after running the first one," Willman said. "The heat picked up pretty good, but I was able to recover and crank out another one.
"It feels really good to know I'll be All-Ohio in both," he said. "Hopefully next year we'll get a little higher on the podium."
He'll have something to build upon.
Saturday's effort made him just the first Seneca East boy to place in both races at the same state meet in coach Justin Ruffing's tenure.
There was a chance that wouldn't even occur.
Ruffing and Willman had considered dropping the 1,600 and concentrating on the longer race, but after looking at the seed times coming out of the regional meets, the pair scrapped that thought and decided to try for the podium in both.
"That was the goal, as of last week," Willman said with a laugh.
"We made the decision after regionals. I dropped four seconds at regionals, so we figured I had a pretty good shot," he said.
The weather and Willman's experience with transitioning from one race to the other also played a role, Ruffing said.
"He was sitting about the same in both, so there was no sense in dropping one or the other. And the weather allowed us to think about it a little bit. If it was 90 [degrees], we probably wouldn't even have had to think about it," Ruffing said.
"And he's used to doubling. He gets done with the mile and he's always very collected. The only worry ever is being at the state meet when you run the mile, you're going to do things to your body you're not normally going to do. You're going to do things you're not used to, and (the two races) are closer together than you're used to.
"Any race anyone runs here, any race, you dig a little deeper than you've ever went before," he said. "That's the risk of doubling from the mile to the two mile, is to go a little deeper in the mile and then you don't have as much left for the two mile as you normally would have. And there's not a whole lot of recovery time."
But that's what you expect from a leader, regardless of their grade level.
And with Willman coming back healthy and with plenty of state experience, Ruffing said he expects the distance runner to again show the way for the Tigers.
"This is big for him because now he's starting to come into where he's well-trained and where he should be," Ruffing said, "and it's going to be big for him going into the fall for cross [country], and it's going to be real big to have all that training under his belt going into the [track] season next year.
"He's a great leader. He sets a great example for all of our guys of what it takes to get to this level and to be able to compete well," he said. "If any other athlete in our program wants to know 'what do I have to do to do my best and get to state and be All-Ohio?', all they have to do is look at Jason."
And a few other Tigers.
Willman's efforts came one day after the pole vaulting duo of junior Zach Gregg and freshman Cory Depinet each found their way to the podium.
Gregg captured second (15-0) and Depinet wound up sixth (13-0).
"For Cory, it worked out nice because your first concern was let's make some heights here. We wanted him to do well," Ruffing said.
"As soon as that was out of the way, it was time for Zach to start moving up the heights. It was good. He vaulted well right off the bat. Right off the bat he was flying way over the bar and clearing the bar easily," he said. "We knew right off the bat both of them were going to have a good day."
But not all of this year's Tigers will get to return.
Senior Kevin Moore will move on after running fifth in the 110 hurdles in 14.63. This year's time was big improvement over last year, when he ended sixth at state in 15.3.
In fact, this year's times as a whole were much better. Last year's winning time of 14.8 would have only finished sixth this year.
The place wasn't quite what he was aiming for, but Moore said the competition was anything but easy.
"I did better, but it's not what I wanted," he said.
"Everyone had good times, we all ran pretty good," Moore said.
But even those who won't return help set the tone, Ruffing said, with repeated trips to state bringing more and more expectations each year.
"It's nice, but it's also a lot of pressure. I wouldn't say a lot of pressure," he said, correcting himself, "but it takes hard work to get down here and when you have guys that are returning and you know it'll take another year of hard work, it's not like you can take a year and relax."
No, the relaxation comes on the podium, with a little added incentive.
Ruffing said he found out this year that coaches are allowed to present their athletes with their medals on the podium, so the Tigers who placed each got a little extra congratulations from a familiar face in front of the crowd.
"I think it's really nice. Our vaulter coach (Gary England) gave medals to our vaulters, our hurdler coach, Ed Phillips, gave Moore his for the hurdles, and then I gave Jason his for the two mile," Ruffing said.
"It's nice," he said. "Our coaches work very closely with those guys and want to see them do well, so it's nice after working so closely with them to be able to be close to them at the very end when they get what we've been working for."
Old Fort's Marcus Meyers also ran in the 1,600, finishing 15th (4:40.52).