There have been track and field meets during the past two years when a member of Northville’s record-producing 3,200-meter relay team has felt less than 100% — and the ill feelings have been reflected in their rare subpar individual-event performances.
But no matter the level of ailment, whenever Mustangs Brandon Latta, Brock Malaikal, David Whitaker and Brendan Herger teamed up to transport a baton eight times around a 400-meter track in the springs of 2022 and 2023, an unbreakable obligation to one another overpowers any physical adversities.
“I don’t think I’ve ever ran a bad 800 (meters) leg when I’m running with Brendan, Brock and David,” said Latta. “There have been times when I’ve felt physically terrible and it has negatively affected how I run in the open 800, but I don’t want to let the other three guys down in the relay, so I push through it.”
Latta’s three teammates nodded in agreement as he spoke.
A-plus in chemistry
The uncanny chemistry and friendship the four Mustangs have built can be summed up in a lyric in Bruno Mars’ song “Count on Me”: You can count on me like one, two, three, I’ll be there — and I know when I need it, I can count on you like four, three, two — and you’ll be there.
“It’s a positive pressure,” added Whitaker. “My mindset before we run the relay together is, ‘I’m going to do well for my teammates’, not ‘I have to do well for them’. I think we all work harder because we see how hard the other three work and we don’t want to let them down.”
On June 3, their D1 state final-winning time of 7:35.32 broke the previous state record of 7:36.26 set by Milford in 2012 at the New Balance National Championships. As of June 5, the time was the fastest 3,200-meter relay clocking recorded in the country.
The Mustangs’ undeniable dominance has not come without sacrifice and the investment of countless hours of sweat equity.
In addition to dedicating at least a couple hours of most days to training and proper recovery techniques like soaking in ice baths, Latta gave up his years-long quest to become an Eagle Scout to commit more time to running; and Herger curtailed his elite soccer career for the same reason.
“We don’t really get an off-season,” Herger revealed, when asked to describe the level of work that goes into the foursome’s record-setting careers. “We all run cross country and in the winter we run in the St. Joe’s Dome (in Livonia) for the Six Mile Track Club, which I think is the key to our success.”
“The most time we take off is one or two weeks between seasons,” Whitaker said. “If I take two weeks off, I’m at the point where I’m ready to get back at it.”
Consistency pays off
The four elite runners all credited a consistency factor to their success.
They have run in the exact same order — Latta leading off, followed by Malaikal, Whitaker and Herger — since Day One of their grouping.
Latta consistently gives the foursome a healthy lead, which is maintained (or often extended by Malaikal and Whitaker) before Herger usually breaks the tape with a comfortable gap between him and the second-place finisher.
“The order in which we run is not only the most effective,” Whitaker said, “we’re all running the leg we want to run.”
Although the 800 can be a complex event — there’s a fragile mix of all-out sprinting and hold-back discipline required — they all agree it’s their favorite event.
“Depending on the race, I like to set a hot pace and not slow down,” said Malaikal.
“It’s such a short race, that you won’t feel it in your lungs like you do in the mile and two-mile, which I like. You feel it more in your legs, which is better than that feeling of running out of air.”
Standouts off track as well.
Led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology-bound Whitaker’s 4.0 grade-point average, all four Mustangs excel in the classroom.
Latta (3.94 GPA) is headed to Michigan Tech to study mechanical engineering, while Malaikal will be participating in a two-year church mission (possibly in Germany) beginning this summer before enrolling at Michigan Tech.
Herger, the lone junior of the group, is planning to study pre-med wherever he decides to take his track-and-field and classroom skills.
When asked if they’re at all blown away by everything they’ve accomplished, all four runners nodded their heads in unison.
“When I think about never losing a race with these guys in two years while wearing Northville uniforms, yeah, that’s pretty amazing,” Latta said.
“It’s all thanks to them,” Herger said, gesturing toward his three all-for-one-one-for-all teammates.
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