Senior year comes with pressure.
It's the last year to perform. The last year to reach goals. The last year to leave a mark.
None of that scares Northport's Mike Brannigan. In fact, he relishes it. After three years of contributing to Northport's quest for Long Island dominance -- something the Tigers accomplished last year by becoming the first Island boys teams to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals -- Brannigan now is free to focus on Brannigan.
"We've been preaching to him for the last three years that it's all about the team," Northport coach Jason Strom said. "We told him that, when you're a senior, these guys [five of the seven runners that helped the Tigers get to nationals] are going to be gone and you'll be left on your own. At that point, we can chase more of your individual goals."
One of those goals is a New York State Public School championship, something that's proven hard for Island runners to secure. The last Island boy to win a state cross country title was Half Hollow Hills West's Kyle Merber in 2007.
Brannigan has more than enough reason to believe he'll change Long Island's luck. After all, a state title just barely eluded him last season. Brannigan fell by .3 seconds to Fayetteville-Manlius' Bryce Millar in the Class A race at Queensbury High School.
"I have it in me," he said. "I'm a favorite. I have a better kick than anyone."
And who could argue that. The last time Brannigan ran a cross country race against state-wide competition, November's Nike Cross Regionals at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, he won by 10.9 seconds.
Brannigan said he thinks about that victory when plotting future triumphs.
"I want to stay behind the top runner and out-kick them with 800 meters to go," he said. "That's what happened at Nike Regionals. I always look back to Bowdoin Park. That's my strategy."
His goals for the fall don't end at a state championship. Much like last year, Brannigan hopes that's only a notch in a dominant postseason.
"I want to win a national title," he said.
Although no official decision has been made, Strom and Brannigan both said that the runner may choose to compete in the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego, California on Dec. 13 and not Nike Nationals.
"The Nike Meet is good for teams," Strom said. "Footlocker is more of an individual one. The course [at Balboa Park] is more to his liking, as far as having hills and being more challenging than the one at Nike, which is on the inside of a horse track so it has man made twists and turns. That doesn't suit his racing abilities. He's a tougher racer, so the hills will help him."
Senior year will be just another of those hills that Brannigan loves to climb. The bar is high, but not the least bit daunting. It's high because he wants it there. He doesn't think he can do it. He knows it.
"It's my year," he said.