During his sophomore and junior seasons, a pattern developed that Crescenta Valley High's Colin FitzGerald did not like.
In those two campaigns, FitzGerald enjoyed plenty of success at the Pacific League and CIF Southern Section championships and advanced to the CIF State Finals.
The La Crescenta resident left just about everyone in his dust, including to his chagrin, his teammates.
The Crescenta Valley boys never finished better than third in league and did not advance beyond the Southern Section finals.
Something had to change, contended FitzGerald, beginning with him.
"Pretty much after state last year, I realized how important it was and how much I wanted the team to get here," FitzGerald said. "This season I put myself aside, let myself be another kid on the team and it was a lot easier that way. I ran for my team and not for myself."
The senior embraced a leadership role, took a step back at times and watched his Falcons soar to the program's first league title since 2007, a school course record at Crescenta Valley Park and the state finals for the first time since 2013.
All this happened behind a trio of individual runner-up finishes in league, Southern Section and CIF State finals for the unflappable FitzGerald.
For those efforts and more, FitzGerald was selected as the 2017 All-Area Boys' Cross-Country Runner of the Year by the sports writers of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
This is FitzGerald's second straight honor, making him the school's first back-to-back winner in boys' cross-country since Zack Torres finished a three-peat in 2008.
"The team went into races knowing that they had to do their job and that they had someone up there taking care of business for them," Crescenta Valley coach Mark Evans said. "It was neat because of the melding of Colin's efforts and the team's, we had one of the state's best runners and one of the state's top teams."
In 2016, FitzGerald was a runaway locomotive.
He won two invitationals and placed first in five meets, including sweeping his way to a Pacific League title. He also finished second at the CIF Southern Section Division I championships at the Riverside City Cross Country Course in 14 minutes, 44.5 seconds.
While FitzGerald was on cloud nine that day individually, his team finished a sobering 10th and missed the CIF State Meet.
This year, FitzGerald and his coaches encouraged pack running.
FitzGerald only won one invitational this season, while he notched individual victories at the league's first two meets.
It was at that second meet Oct. 12 at Crescenta Valley Park where the Falcons first made history.
Crescenta Valley hammered archrival Arcadia, 19-53, and the squad of FitzGerald, Zach Johnson, Manan Vats, Spencer Geck and Artin Allahverdian set a team time course record of 1 hour, 18 minutes.
"It was phenomenal to be a part of this team," Geck said. "It felt good to set records, to beat Arcadia and Burroughs and to have a guy like Colin up front. He's one of my close friends and I've never seen anything like what he's done."
Individually, FitzGerald also surpassed Nathan Sellers (15:18) with the school's best individual mark of 15:10.3 at Crescenta Valley Park.
The team ended a decade's worth of frustration by winning the Pacific League crown at league finals at Arcadia County Park on Nov. 1.
Crescenta Valley finished with 25 points, easily outlasting defending co-champions Burroughs (54) and Arcadia (69) for the program's first league title since 2007.
"I enjoyed the moment, the whole team did, of finally getting ahead and winning a league championship," Vats said. "We made the alumni jealous that day. Because of that, we get to consider ourselves with the legendary teams of CV. Colin led us; what he did was mind-blowing."
Crescenta Valley's team success came with one drawback as FitzGerald led a pack effort that saw him finish second in 14:39.6 to Burroughs' Jagdeep Chahal, who nudged FitzGerald at the photo finish.
"If I run like I did last year, I win that race," FitzGerald said, "but it worked out in the end for us. To win as a team, that was an amazing feeling."
Crescenta Valley faced arguably its greatest hurdle at the Southern Section Division I Championships in Riverside on Nov. 18.
The Falcons entered ranked No. 2, but were battling injuries.
"I heard [assistant] coach [Alex] Lowe screaming, 'Colin we need you,'" FitzGerald said. "That's when I thought we might be in trouble."
FitzGerald was spectacular in finishing second for a second straight year in an even better time of 14:39.9, as he was clipped by Loyola's Shane Bissell (14:39.4).
Yet, FitzGerald wasn't concerned with individual championships. He and his teammates waited for final team results.
When the dust settled, frustration and angst were replaced by joy and relief as the Falcons took the final qualifying spot by finishing seventh with 244 points.
"We were both happy and relieved," FitzGerald said. "While we were really excited to go to state, we were a little bit let down by our final finish."
If Crescenta Valley had hoped for a rebound effort at the CIF State Division I Championships at Fresno's Woodward Park on Nov. 25, it certainly delivered.
The Falcons turned in their best effort at state since 2007 by finishing fourth with 128 points.
Individually, FitzGerald also exorcised some demons.
After finishing 23rd in 2015 and 44th in 2016, FitzGerald earned second in 15:10.1.
"It was an insane day," FitzGerald said. "We all just put everything aside, injuries and sicknesses, everyone stepped up big time and sacrificed their bodies. To take fourth is awesome and for me to finally do well at state was what I was waiting for."
FitzGerald's season ended Dec. 2 when he finished 40th at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland in 15:51.8.
"Somebody like Colin just doesn't come around too often," Evans said. "He had a special year and we as a team had a special year. I think that meant more to him than anything."