[Editor's note: Over the weekend, since our conversation, Jacob Benoit raced to first place at the Acadia Invitational, helping the X-Men capture first place in the team competition.]
Jacob Benoit of the St. F.X. X-Men didn’t waste any time leaving his mark on the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) cross country season.
The freshman student-athlete from Windsor garnered second place in the St. F.X. Invitational, his first regular season race in varsity competition.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” the graduate of Avon View High School said, when asked about the Sept. 21 race.
He added he had “no expectations,” when it came to placement and time.
“I had the mindset that I wanted to challenge guys,” Benoit noted.
He explained his now home course on the St. F.X. campus provided a great opportunity to run a technical race, considering its narrow trails, turns and hills.
“It was a challenge, so I am really happy with my result,” Benoit said.
He and fifth-year senior Paul MacLellan, who finished third, helped the X-Men captured second place in the season-opening meet.
Like his veteran teammate, an Antigonish native, Benoit has deep ties to the Highland Heart of Nova Scotia. His father, André, grew up in Antigonish County.
“It was my sister (Eileen) – she was first,” the younger Benoit noted, when asked about his start in cross country.
Up until Grade 9, when he started to focus on running, his sport passions included soccer and softball.
“It piqued my interest,” Benoit said of watching his sister compete.
He added “I fell in love with it right away.”
As for the appeal, Benoit said he has “always loved being active,” along with being social and enjoying the outdoors.
“It is great for all of that,” he added of running.
It also offers the opportunity to set goals and “really work towards them.”
In his final three years of high school with the Avalanche, Benoit garnered medals in NSSAF competition, while also competing with Valley Athletics.
He laughed when asked why he decided to focus on longer distances.
“I don’t have a lot of fast muscle fibres,” Benoit quipped.
He noted he also enjoys the tactical nature of the “longer races.”
Benoit will also compete for St. F.X. in the upcoming track and field season, focussing on the 1,500m, 3,000m and, possibly, the relay.
Running has become a family affair for the Benoit clan, including André, who took up officiating a couple years ago.
“He loves going to meets,” the son said of his father.
With a laugh, he added, “he goes to meets more than we do.”
André served as starter for the St. F.X. Invitational.
Benoit also noted his mother Elaine has “always been supportive” of the siblings’ athletic endeavours.
“It has been great,” he said.
Speaking of ‘great,’ that’s how Benoit might describe running for multi-time Canadian Olympian and Antigonish native Eric Gillis, who is head coach for the St. F.X. cross country program.
“It is really incredible,” he said of the experience.
Noting he has been blessed with talented and knowledgeable coaches over the years, Benoit added Gillis has “an approach like no one else I have ever seen.”
He said his head coach has a “great philosophy.”
Gillis offered equal praise for Benoit, noting his “great composure” for a first-year athlete.
He said he has “settled in well” in all aspects of university life, including athletically and academically.
“Jacob has been everything a coach would want in a first-year student-athlete,” Gillis noted.
He also described Benoit as a “great teammate.”
When asked why he pursued Benoit for the program, Gillis not only talked about his strong performances, including a top-10 finish in the national youth cross country championships, but also his positivity and openness to learning.
“He talked about wanting to get a quality university education and also his commitment to running,” the second-year X-Men head coach said, in reflecting on one of their conversation s during the recruiting process.
Gillis also admires the patience of the young student-athlete, when it comes to developing his craft.
“Jacob is going to be a key contributor to our program for a long time,” he said.
‘No second guesses’
As for the rest of this season, Benoit is focussed on helping the X-Men win a conference crown while, individually, he has his sights set on an AUS rookie-of-the-year nod.
“I know it is early in the season, but I really want to challenge myself,” he said.
Benoit said he “loves the team,” noting the X-Men not only train together, but also study and hang out.
“It is so comfortable knowing they have your back,” he added.
When it comes to his first few weeks of university, the Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics student said “everything is going well.”
His decision to attend St. F.X. was the right one.
“I have no second guesses – I am where I should be,” Benoit said.