WILMINGTON — Jake Danieli is passionate about a lot of things but two in particular: his love for this country and the love he has for his cross-country teammates.
Those two passions makes it easy to figure out that he's the consummate team player.
"I knew freshman year that Jake was going to be one of my captains when he was a senior," said WHS boys' cross-country coach Brian Schell. "He was probably one of the more mature kids on the team. He’s down-to-earth, he does everything you need and he’s just a great all-around kid. He’s in our top six, he works very hard and I know he’s one of the kids who did the work in the summer. It’s good to see his passion for the sport grow as I know he did other sports before coming here."
It took Danieli some time before he found that true love of running.
"I used to play soccer, basketball and baseball," he said, while noting that he has a younger sister Jenna, who is a member of the WHS Varsity Field Hockey team and who is "a good athlete and fun to be around."
"I left soccer so my parents forced me to do a (fall) sport so I chose cross-country," he continued. "I just loved it so much so then I left basketball and joined the winter track team. Then I did baseball my freshman year but I had so much fun with the cross-country and track teams, so I then joined the spring track team."
And now he's a three-seasoned runner, who cherishes every minute, every run, every meet and every spaghetti dinner that he has with his buddies.
"I love it so much between my friends, the coaching staffs, the programs and just everything that we have here for cross-country and track, I just love," he said. "I wouldn’t rather be with any other program than (cross-country and track). I had never had as much fun before with any other team. I didn’t think the sport could be this much fun. It’s not laid-back, but when you get here, you know what you have to do everyday, everything was just so organized."
Last year was just his second year on the cross-country team. He was part of a very talented team, which went on to make program history finishing second at the Division 4 State Meet and then went on to finish as the 14th best Division 2 team in the entire state. The second place finish at the Divisional meet was the best performance by any Wilmington team since 1974.
"It was a lot of fun," he said when asked to reflect on the season. "We had no official captains so we all came together as a team, and we all were able to get through the season together. It (ended up) being the best team that the school has ever had. We finished second place at the state meet, so we did really well. It was just fun overall seeing everyone do so well together. We had all put in the work (that off-season) so coming in second place at the state meet but pretty special."
Wilmington had the two terrific post-season meets, which came well after finishing with a 2-4 regular season record.
"Originally when we first started off, I was surprised (with the team’s success) but as we got better, I realized how good the team was and the potential that we had and I definitely saw the possibility," he said. "I remember when coach was reading off the names and the place finishes for the teams and when he read off that we finished in second place, everyone just went crazy. It was a lot of fun."
Last year as a junior, Danieli was usually the team's sixth or seventh place finisher. At the Division 4 state meet, he finished 93rd overall with a time of 19:10.2 and a week later, he finished at 20:35 at the Division 2 All-State Meet. While team scores are comprised of the top five place finishers, you can surely bet than having kids like Danieli push the front group at practice everyday made quite the difference come the post-season meets.
"Joe had a real strong sophomore year," said Schell. "Then he just keeps getting better and better since then. He does the 600 and 800 (in track) and he has some real good speed."
The 2019 Wilmington team once again has some lofty expectations, despite losing two of the team's top seven runners from last year with Ben Packer and Kevin Elderd, who finished first and fifth for the team at the state meet. Danieli and others will surely be asked to pick up some of that responsibility.
"I’ll be trying to get in the low 17s," he answered about his personal goals for the season, "but I’m more focused on trying to help this team as much as I can."
Well before the season started, Danieli already did his part to help the team — he did a tremendous amount of summer training.
"We all started captains’ practices together in early June and we ran six days a week, everyday but Sundays, for the entire summer," he said. "It was definitely tiring but we got in the work that we needed to do. We started off slow doing three to five miles at a time and then towards the end of it, we were doing about nine miles for our long runs at a time, so I think we averaged maybe 45 to 60 miles per week, so maybe 450-500 miles for the summer."
That's a lot of running in the humidity and 90-plus degree days.
"Motivation wise, for me, I love this sport. I just went out there because I knew that I had to train (to be ready for this season) and that’s what I did," said Danieli.
Five of the starting seven from last year return with Greg Adamek, Nolan Kennedy, Sean Riley, Joe Lydon and Danieli — the first four all finished within the top 50 at the Divisional Meet, thus with the addition of another former soccer player, and if the team remains healthy and continues to improve, the 'Sky is the Limit' for this group.
"We’re looking really good actually. We’re gaining another runner this year in Owen Surette and he’s probably going to be our number one or number two runner this year. Ben and Kevin we lost, but adding Owen means we really lost one kid as we have the rest of the team returning. Wakefield will be really tough but if we can beat them, I think we will be (Middlesex League Freedom Division) champions. And at the state meet, you have to beat (the two-time divisional champs of) Newburyport."
Whether or not that happens will be decided in November, but what has already been decided is life after high school for Jake Danieli.
"I’m going to enlist in the military. I’m going to do four years for Marine Corps and when I come out, I’d like to be a police officer. A friend of mine’s father, Jay Kelly, served in the Gulf War and he was in a tank. He is now a Malden Cop and what he has done is what I want to do in my life. He’s a great role model for me. I look up to him and he’s a great person. He lives here in town."
And why the military?
"My grandfather was in the Air Force and I just love everyone and everything about this country so much. I love what this country stands for and I’m willing to defend it. I like the whole law enforcement (and when I get out of the military), I’ll have all of the military experience and that helps out. I like being involved with civil-service and just helping people."