Norman cross country coach Scott Monnard calls Mackenzie Wahpepah-Harris the most talented long distance runner to wear the Tiger uniform in two decades.
“If Mackenzie runs as he is capable of, I am not sure there is anyone that can beat him (in Oklahoma),” Monnard said.
“He is going to have to back that up. We are only halfway through the season and a lot can happen. But he's got a chance to do some special things.”
Wahpepah-Harris hasn't lost a race this fall. The senior has been so dominant that even when a course monitor told him to take a wrong turn at Oklahoma Baptist University last week, he was still able to turn around and come back and win the race by 10 seconds.
He is the defending 6A state champion in the 2-mile run and has a personal best time of 15:36 in the 5K, the fastest of any Tiger runner in Monnard's 15 years as the Norman coach.
Wahpepah-Harris is the favorite to win the state 6A cross country championship next month.
“I grew up in Norman. I ran for Norman High,” Monnard said. “He is not the best that's ever come through Norman, but you are talking nearly a century. But he has a chance to be one of the top five runners the school has ever produced.”
Wahpepah-Harris (whose last name is a combination of his mother's maiden name and his father's name) is a member of the Kickapoo tribe who has a passion for art and running.
His parents are both teachers at Irving Middle School in Norman. His mother, Carol, is a full-blooded Kickapoo and teaches English. His father, Dan, is an art instructor.
Wahpepah-Harris is currently painting portraits of his cross country teammates as part of an advanced arts class.
“I do an Andy Warhol kind of style,” he said. “A lot of my stuff kind of looks like his.”
Wahpepah-Harris has had a passion for art since he was little. He discovered his passion for running more recently.
Wahpepah-Harris has been running cross country since the sixth grade but admits he lacked confidence when he was younger.
Stress fractures in his knee forced him to miss his freshman season of cross country. He chose to play golf in the spring of both his freshman and sophomore years instead of running track, in part to help his body heal.
“It gave my knees a good chance to rest,” he said.
As junior, Wahpepah-Harris helped Norman win the cross country state championship as a team by finishing 13th at the state meet.
However, it was last spring in track when he raced to the top and won the 6A state championship in the 2-mile run.
“That's when he really separated himself and instead of becoming one of the top 10 or 15 runners, he became the best distance runner in the state,” Monnard said. “That's only snowballed this year.”
Wahpepah-Harris' mental toughness was hardened by training last spring with Norman's Tanner Satterthwaite, who won the 6A individual cross country title as a junior two years ago.
Satterthwaite finished fourth in the state cross country meet last year to end an injury-plagued senior season.
“He had the fastest kid in the state that he practiced with every day,” Monnard said. “He started being able to hang with Tanner in practice and then it started translating into the meets.”
Wahpepah-Harris said he copied Satterthwaite's work ethic.
“I tried to train like him, push myself to that level that Tanner did,” he said. “I got to see him every day and how hard he worked and the passion he put into it. He definitely motivated me a lot. He still does.”
On Saturday, Wahpepah-Harris and his Norman squad will travel to Stillwater for the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State University.
It will be his first chance this fall to compete against the best runners from the eastern side of the state. Schools from Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas also will be there.
‘There is going to be a lot of really good runners there,” he said. “I am really psyched up for it. I am excited to get out there and compete.”
They are probably more excited to run against him.
“He can run like the wind,” Monnard said.