Lely graduate Josh Wagner outpaces Estero's Hugh Brittenham for Firecracker 5K title


Joshua Wagner, 19, finishes first as other runners finish their first lap during the MoeÕs Firecracker 5k on July 4, 2018 at Fleischmann Park in Naples.

Josh Wagner says he’s made so many improvements during his first year as a college runner.

Ready to enter his sophomore year at Division II Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Wagner put those improvements on display during the July 4 Moe’s Firecracker 5K at Fleischmann Park in Naples. The 2017 Lely graduate ran down Estero’s Hugh Brittenham in the last mile to win the race with a brisk time of 15:43.

“Hugh set the pace really well,” Wagner said. “Over the last half-mile, my fitness really started kicking in. I felt good at the end and I’m really excited about the way I ran.”

Making the result even more impressive is the fact Wagner wasn’t even a full-time runner until two years ago – he played football for the Trojans but gave up the gridiron to focus on cross country and track his senior year.

Mo Palmer, Josh Wagner take titles at Moe's Firecracker 5K

“During the last part of a race, especially if I’m behind but close to the leader, that football mentality kicks in,” Wagner said. “I always imagine I’m running down someone for a tackle, and it really gets the adrenaline going.”

Brittenham, the defending Class 3A state champ in the 800 and a silver medalist in the 1,600, said he was pleased with how he ran.

“I broke 16 minutes, which is what I wanted to do,” he said. “This race is a good one to run in because you’ve got guys like Joshua Wagner running it and also some FGCU runners. For a local race, it’s got some great competition.”

Wagner says he’s a much different runner now than he was entering his freshman season in college. The improvements he’s made has transformed him from a middle-of-the pack runner for the Moccasins into one of the top two or three on the team, he said.

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“All the endurance training is paying off,” Wagner said. “In high school, I was doing about 20 to 30 miles a week for training. I’m now up to 60 to 90 miles. Plus, I’m taking care of my body a lot better, taking advantage of all the recovery equipment we have in the athletic room. Last year, I couldn’t handle a lot of the training. I’d have to stop. Now, I’m able to hang with all the guys that have been running much longer than I have.”

As for Brittenham, he’s looking ahead to what should be an outstanding senior year in both cross country and track. He finished seventh in last year’s Class 3A state cross country meet.

“Right now, summer training is all about getting some heat tolerance and building back up for cross country,” he said. “I’m focused on 5K training, running those three-mile tempos to get ready to go all out this year. I’m very pleased where I am and hopeful of what my season will look like this year.”