His leg caked with mud, Martin Nunez can’t feel the softness of his socks — the bottom of his feet are soaking wet.


It’s Saturday morning at Ben Geren Park. There are makeshift tents, hordes of young runners. Buses fill the adjacent parking lot.


Cross country season isn’t for everyone, but Nunez couldn’t be happier. The Alma senior, his neatly pressed black-frame glasses, is a clean-cut, well-spoken kid who just wants to fit in.


"I didn’t really have too many friends, so I figured that was a good way to make friends and get out of my comfort zone," Nunez said. "I’ve become more social — like going to parties and having friends and stuff. I’ve gotten more physically active instead of just being at home all day.


"It’s helped me have a healthy lifestyle."


Saturday morning, while sloshing through wet grass and endless streams of mud, Nunez places 50th overall. Unable to top his PR time of 19:18, Nunez finished Saturday’s Fort Smith Invitational with a time of 21:08.6.


"I’d like to get to 18:30 … that’s my goal," he said.


Nunez and senior Blake Williams are holdovers from the Lenn Hall era. They were here for three other cross country coaches, too.


This year’s coach, Thomas Mata, is the fourth cross country coach the program has had during the duo’s four years in high school — all with varying coaching styles.


"It’s a bit different because now we have to adjust to the new coaches’ schedule and how they want to train," Williams said. "We started off with coach Hall and did a lot of repeat miles. After coach Hall retired, we had coach Ed (Kevin Edwards). He liked to do a lot of sprint work; he thought the start of the race was the most important part. After coach Ed retired, we had coach (Zach) Jones, and with coach Jones, we had a lot of timed runs.


"Now that we have coach Mata, we’re doing a lot of long-distance running."


"We do a lot of 800s," interrupts Martin. "With all of the coaches we’ve had the past couple of years, we’ve taken a little bit from each of them. Everything they did for us was valuable, and it’s turned us into the athletes we are today."


Mata, a former Van Buren football star, probably never envisioned himself coaching cross country. But here he is, a smile on his face, a constant stream of encouragement pouring from his lips.


"I hope to be their coach for at least a couple of years," Mata said. "I know Marin and Blake are going to be gone, but you’ve got Jael (Nunez), Henry (Dray), Dallas Welch, Paul Marston — they’ll all be here next year, so we should have a pretty good returning team."


Just a sophomore, Jael Nunez (Martin’s younger brother) finished in 39th place Saturday. Dray was 42nd.


"Whenever you put on the uniform, you play as a team — you represent someone of a family," Williams said. "If you do terrible things while you’re wearing the uniform, that’s what they’re going to view Alma as.


"To me, putting on the uniform is a moral obligation to act good, secondly, when you put on a uniform you’re representing your team, your family, so you want to do good in the sport."


"When you’re wearing the jersey, you’re representing the school in a positive way," Nunez said. "There are a lot of schools that don’t even have enough people to make a team. Thankfully, in Alma, we have enough people to make a team."


Times weren’t always this good, Williams said. "We barely had enough for a team," he said.


Williams took up cross country following the lead of his older sister Brianna.


"She’s the one who really got me into cross country," he said. "I started one year earlier than (Martin); coach Hall let me run with them, even though I couldn’t compete in meets. The main thing that got me interested was staying in shape, meeting friends, and making my friends happy."


Blake Williams may not ever threaten to win any meets. And he’s fine with that.


"A lot of people like to say that cross country is an individual sport," Williams said. "In reality, it’s a team sport that keeps you going. It’s up to your team to make sure you cross the finish line. We just ran around the course cheering people on the entire time.


"That’s what cross country is really about — just supporting your team. It’s not really about placing, it’s about kids feeling at home."


"I feel like it develops a strong bond between us," Nunez said. "(Running) is physically taxing on your body and you know your teammates are there to support you and help you push through for a faster time."


"They are two great kids," Mata said of Nunez and Martin. "They care about the program; they really push the younger kids to keep up with them. I’m proud of them and glad to be their coach."