Roberto Rosas caught people by surprise last season as a junior.
As a senior, however, the Davis High cross country standout wasn't afforded the same luxury and essentially set foot on every course wearing a bull's-eye on his back.
"I'd rather be the hunter than the hunted," Rosas said with a laugh. "People were sneaking up on me this year like I sneaked up on them last year.
"Once you get up to the top in the county, everybody comes after you. To me, it's easier to chase somebody than to run away from them."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Running away from the competition is what The Bee's 2009 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year did throughout another banner season, one that saw Rosas capture his second consecutive Modesto Metro Conference title and MVP award, place sixth in Division 1 at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Meet in Folsom and run to a 20th-place finish in D-1 at the State Meet in Fresno late last month.
It is the second consecutive year Rosas has received The Bee's top runner honor.
The high point of Rosas' season might have come in early October, when he claimed victory at the Spartans' MMC meet against Modesto High, then went on to capture the VS Athletics-Cal Poly and Clovis invitationals within a seven-day span.
Where most would be thrilled with such results, Rosas came away less than satisfied with his overall performance.
"The only thing different between this season and last was the level of satisfaction," said Rosas. "I was very satisfied with my performance last season. Last year, it was like, 'Who is this kid' — this year it was, 'He's the guy, get 'em.'
"I set my goals high and I didn't reach them like I thought I would. I mean, it's not like I did bad. My times were good and I placed high at state. But last year I finished second in the section and this year I finished sixth. People say, 'Roberto, quiet, you did good.' I just think I could have done better."
Rosas dedicated his season to running for his younger brother, Adrian, who in April was diagnosed with leukemia.
While there was disappointment in not winning more races, Rosas is comforted by the fact that Adrian's condition has improved.
"I ran for him, so I'm disappointed that I didn't do better," said Rosas, "but Adrian is getting better, and that made things easier. That's what matters."
Rosas, who plans to pursue a career in law enforcement, will continue his running career at the collegiate level. At which college, however, remains to be seen.
Cal State Stanislaus has already sent him a letter of acceptance. He recently visited Sacramento State and has plans for a trip to Chico State in the near future.
"It's nice to have options," he said.
Rosas says his experiences over the past two years have prepared him for the next leg of his journey.
"I've learned more these past two seasons in cross country and track than I ever did in my life. It's not like learning book work, but learning life. I've leaned that stuff happens and you just have to deal with it. Sometimes you're not given a choice, and most of the time it's not fair, but that's life.
"It's funny how a poor family can be so much happier than richer families because they realize it's not what you have, it's how you work with it and what you do with it."
It's that ability to maintain perspective and stay positive that make Rosas stand out, according to Davis coach Matt Soderlund.
"Roberto is a very likeable person and his positive personality makes him a better runner," said Soderlund. "He is always the first to congratulate a competing runner, whether he came in first or second behind that runner. He encourages others, both on and off his team, and he has a reputation around the league for being, one, an outstanding runner and, two, being a good guy.
"Most sports don't place any merit on high character, only on achievement. It's nice to have an athlete who has so many achievements and keeps his high character intact."
Bee staff writer Stuart Rosenberg can be reached at 578-2301 or by e-mailing email@example.com.