Brother Martin cross country coach Ryan Gallagher knew just how good Hayden Courrege could be, and he didn’t hesitate to let his team know it during final team meetings last spring.

The way Gallagher explains it, he put the onus on his older runners to make sure that Courrege (an incoming freshman who already had set several school records for Brother Martin’s junior high,) made every summer practice at 6 a.m.

After all, the youngster wasn’t old enough to drive.

So on a near-daily basis, incoming senior Felipe Pelaez would drive his old Toyota Corolla to Courrege’s house and ferry him to practice. Pelaez even had a key to Courrege’s house, and at least once, had to rouse his younger teammate from slumber.

That kind of commitment to “team” has the Crusaders thinking big this season. They would like nothing more than to improve upon last year’s fifth-place finish at the Division I Louisiana State Cross Country Championship in Natchitoches. It was a disappointing end to a promising season, said Gallagher and his 2013 teammates .

Things are looking up on Elysian Fields Ave., however, partially because of Courrege’s arrival and a host of talented returnees.

It all starts with senior Chace Edwards, who posted a season-best 15-minute, 48-second time over 3 miles at the Episcopal (Baton Rouge) Round Table Run in early September. Edwards finished 11th in last year’s state meet and carries the banner for the Crusaders.

“Since last November, we’ve had one thing on our mind and that’s a state championship,” he said. “We’ve worked hard. We have the same goals. We want to be first at state.”

Courrege has the second-fastest time for Brother Martin this year; a 15:51 also at the Round Table Run. It was good enough for a freshman 3-mile school record. Edwards and Courrege have swapped spots in the individual results throughout the year, and both said they’re better because of the healthy competition.

“Sometimes a (talented) freshman can rock the boat,” Gallagher said. “But these guys want to win a state championship. ... They’ve been open to him. Hayden beat Chace two weeks ago, and then he came right back and got him. Chace is a competitor and wants to beat him, but he also wants him right there next to him (for the team.)”

Courrege, who started running competitively when he was in seventh grade, said the guidance from Edwards and others has helped him improve.

“I’ve learned from them how to control pace,” he said. “They’ve also helped me with work ethic. They help me focus. I like competition and the thrill of the moment. I don’t think of it as being a freshman. I think of it as speed and (wanting to be) the fastest.”

Other top runners for Brother Martin this season include Pelaez (16:30 top time in 2014,) senior Mason Williams (16:44,) sophomore Myles Ceravolo (16:46,) freshman Ben Crowley (17:24,) senior Jonathan Fry (17:23,) and senior Grant Belsome (17:33.)

The mix of youth and experience meets at “talent,” Gallagher said.

“It’s a weird mix of seniors who are really strong leaders who have been in the program for a long time, and some talented younger guys,” he said. “Those seniors and some of the young guys — the older guys have taken them under their wing. I really think that’s been the difference this year.”

“We push each other on a daily basis,” Pelaez said. “I try to keep up with Hayden and Chace. We all follow.”

Edwards and Courrege said they would have it no other way, and hope to lead the Crusaders to a state championship.

“Just expect us to be there in the end,” Courrege said.

As for Edwards’ goal?

“It would be nice for both of us to finish in the top three. St. Paul’s did it last year (by clinching the top two spots in the 5A race.) We’re hoping to do it too.”