It took Coral Glades cross-country coach Pedro Gonzalez five minutes to project Anthony Deleva, an oft-injured basketball player with no knowledge of cross country two years ago, as his next unlikely star.
Gonzalez’s reputation for turning diamonds in the rough into All-Americans was cemented last season when Deleva finished eighth at the Class 4A state meet and became the second unheralded Jaguars runner in the past three years to be named Broward Boys Runner of the Year.
“I think God puts certain people in other people’s lives at the right place and right time,’’ Gonzalez said. “I saw Anthony running a mile conditioning drill for our basketball team and said that kid needs to run cross-country. He showed the heart of a runner. He was very competitive.”
Gonzalez said Deleva shares the same competitive DNA and unlikely rise to stardom with Santiago Zerda, Gonzalez’ first protégé’ who was named 2010 Broward Boys Runner of the Year.
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That Deleva, who kicked off his senior season by finishing second at the FKA Lions Invitational and 14th in a season-best 16 minutes 34 seconds at the Spanish River Invitational, is entertaining college scholarship offers with just two years’ experience speaks to the extra training he has put in with Gonzalez along with a highly disciplined nutrition regimen.
“Coach Gonzalez got me into running; I wasn’t even a runner,’’ Deleva said. “I didn’t even know what cross-country was two years ago. Going into high school, I was thinking about basketball. I changed my love. Now I love cross-country. It’s going to get my college paid so I can study physical therapy. That’s awesome.”
Deleva wasted little time establishing himself in his “rookie” season as a sophomore. He placed sixth at the Varela Viper Invitational before qualifying for the state meet and placing 32nd.
As a junior, Deleva launched himself into the upper echelon by winning the Westminster Invitational and placing 11th at the Orange Bowl Invitational before winning district and regional titles and posting a career-best 15:55 at the Class 4A state meet.
“Anthony is talented, yes, but he is a workaholic as well,’’ Gonzalez said. “He doesn’t want to take breaks or run slow. When he sets a goal, he always accomplishes that goal. He always says ‘If I die, I die, but I will die fighting.’
That all-out approach should bode well for Deleva against a loaded Class 4A field, highlighted by Orlando Timber Creek’s Brandon Marquez, Miami Sunset’s Nick Diaz, Miami Coral Reef’s Kurt Convey and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Manuel Velasquez.
Aside from individual goals, Gonzalez believes Deleva will spark Noeha Rose, Carlos Bello, Clayton Holzkneeht and Junior Semil to the Jaguars’ first state appearance as a team.
“As a coach, we are supposed to have the kids accomplish what they can,” Gonzalez said. “I was in tears when Anthony won regionals. I feel great that Anthony followed Santiago. It is like a chain that continues. Maybe they wouldn’t know how good they could be in running if our paths didn’t cross. Hopefully, Santiago and Anthony will take a little part of me all their lives.”