Cross-Country

How Philo Germano helped Syracuse to a national championship

Courtesy of SU Athletics

Philo Germano was in no place to contribute significantly to Syracuse last year. In 2015, it was a different story.

With 200 meters to go in the national championship, the course leveled off and Philo Germano saw Colorado’s Ammar Moussa a few meters ahead. He heard assistant coach Brien Bell yelling. Just a few points separated Colorado and Syracuse. Germano kicked.

He’d done this before.

Just a year prior, Germano sat on his couch, looking at the television. He watched teammates post photos as they celebrated their win at the Wisconsin Meet of Champions in 2014. Germano didn’t travel with the team last season, working only on the practice squad. There, in his South Campus apartment between watching, rehab runs and class, a familiar frustration surfaced.

His redshirt freshman season had unraveled before it started, having torn a foot ligament working as a lifeguard.

“I remember being so happy for them,” Germano said. “But at the same time thinking, ‘I have to be there next year … (I needed) my mind in that zone. I don’t have to be a practice squad guy. I could contribute.’ That’s all I really wanted.”

A season later, Germano’s late kick and 39th-place finish separated Syracuse from No. 1 Colorado and led to the 82-91 win in the 2015 NCAA national championship in Louisville, Kentucky. SU head coach Chris Fox compared Germano’s growth as going from the last guy on a basketball bench to scoring 35 points in a national championship game. But before his big breakout, Germano took a risk, then restructured his approach.

“For never having been there before … he outdid our expectations by far,” said Fox, who told Germano before the race to aim at finishing around 75th. “He had more confidence in himself than any of us did.”

Germano’s had that confidence since the beginning. It’s what led him to walk on in 2013. During a recruiting visit, Philo’s father, Phil Germano, had asked Fox if his son would be given the chance to run despite not being highly recruited.

“The best guys run the biggest races,” Philo remembered Fox saying. “Whoever’s the best.”

It took Germano three years to hold up his end of the deal, but when he did, Fox stayed true to his word. He started Germano in both the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference championship races.

Germano wanted that challenge of earning a spot, he said. The Albany, New York native had seen a fellow New Yorker who wasn’t highly recruited, Martin Hehir, come to Syracuse and eventually a two-time All-American. Last season, as he healed, Germano cut out “Wired to Run,” a newspaper article about Hehir’s professional-style preparation and ensuing successes. He tacked it to his apartment’s bulletin board.

This summer, he lived on campus with Colin Bennie and two other runners. Rather than finding excuses in the weather to start later, stop earlier or not go at all — as he did occasionally at home — Germano embraced the regimented runs every morning and afternoon.

“When I started putting the work in, I felt like one of the guys, which felt cool,” Germano said. “Live the lifestyle … of professionalism that goes with working hard.”

As summer faded into fall and the other students returned for school, he kept his routine. Germano went to bed early, ran extra at 7 a.m. with teammates, cooked healthy, vegetable-filled meals with Bennie and had “tame” weekends.

“He really dedicated himself,” Fox said. “We always talk to our guys about being pros. He really did that. You could see (his seriousness) this entire year, and especially this fall at such a high level. Those things combined and made it happen.”

About a month prior to nationals, on a challenging, 6-mile team workout run up Sweet Road in Manlius, New York, Germano ran the last mile in 4:30, about 25-30 seconds faster than he’d ever done before, Fox said.

Germano brought a little bit of Sweet Road to the national championship in Louisville, Kentucky. During the last 500 meters of the race, tunnel vision kicked in and he didn’t notice any of the runners he passed.

Ten feet from the finish line, he passed Moussa, the 14th runner he’d overtaken in the last 2 kilometers.

“Of all the people on our team, I can’t think of anyone more fitting to be the hero,” Hehir said. “He’s a testament to hard work trumps all.”

Later, Germano watched a replay of the race and saw that he led a pack of nine runners which all finished within about two seconds of his time, 30:29.5. SU won by nine points.

Hehir, Justyn Knight and Bennie, who had finished in the top nine, were in the waiting tent when Fox came in.

The race’s public address announcer ran into the tent shortly after and announced Syracuse as the national champions.

The team stood on the podium for a collective purpose, but it meant something different to each of them. Vindication for Fox, who’s spent 11 years building the program. A dream sendoff for Hehir in his final race. Rewarded rededication for Germano; walk-on to national champion.

As the cheers went up, Germano smiled and reached back, his left arm outstretched to touch the trophy he helped his team earn. He looked at the crowd, arm in arm with Bennie and Knight, the friends he used to watch have these moments. The cameras snapped. Germano stood about 680 miles from South Campus, and even further from the frustration he felt there a year ago.

This time, he didn’t have to see the celebration on the TV.

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