Two days after setting a mark that could stand at Heritage High for years, distance runner Luke Richards signed his National Letter of Intent on Monday, making official his decision to run at Radford University next fall.

The speedy senior ran a personal best 16:12.9 at the VHSL Class 3 state championship on Saturday, placing 14th overall.

With that finish, Richards broke his own school record for 5K events. He eclipsed a 35-year-old HHS record in October by running a 16:14 at the XC Invitational in Mechanicsville.

The previous school record, 16:18, was set by Eric Davis in 1984.

Richards was one of several local standouts on the local cross country scene this fall. The boys and girls teams at Jefferson Forest both finished fifth in the highly-competitive Class 4 state championships. E.C. Glass’ Jette Davidson, the Seminole District girls runner of the year, won the Region 4D individual title and finished 10th at the state meet.

And Virginia Episcopal’s Daniel O’Brien was exceptional, too, winning his third straight Virginia Independent Schools Div. II state title, turning in a PR of 14:57 in October, and advancing to the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships, which will be held Dec. 14 in San Diego.

Richards set a goal as a freshman: overtake the best mark in school history. It took four years, but he got there and became one of the best runners in all of Class 3 along the way.

Signing his NLI in the Heritage cafeteria Monday afternoon, Richards said breaking the school record was his “all-time goal.”

“I ran a 16:26 5K freshman year, and I really just wanted to break that record because I knew I was right there,” the senior said.

Heritage cross country coach Dennis Coan remembers having a conversation about the mark not long after Richards entered high school.

“You don’t get to the level that Luke has gotten to without an immense amount of dedication,” Coan said. “Some of the kids look at him and say he’s magic. Well, there’s no magic. It’s just hard work. It’s hard work when [no one] is watching.”

At Radford, Richards found a place that felt like home, he said. He had also considered running at the University of Lynchburg prior to making his decision to become a Highlander.

He’ll run track & field at Radford as well.

Now that his final high school cross country season has ended, Richards is getting geared up for Heritage’s indoor track season. He runs distance events for both the indoor and outdoor seasons.

"I made this decision because it felt like the perfect fit for me," Richards said of running at Radford. "I just loved how the team was. They made me feel like I was at home."

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Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527. 

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