It only seems like Said Guermali came out of nowhere to become one of the top cross country runners in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League this season.
Actually, he just came back home after a detour through Texas.
No matter the route, his teammates at Union are just thrilled Guermali found his way to them.
Guermali was a seventh-grader at Frontier Middle School when his mother's job as an air traffic controller took the family to the Lone Star State. Not too many people knew it at the time, but Clark County had just lost one talented athlete.
"It was kind of weird at first," Guermali said. "I wasn't used to Texas. It was a whole different culture, a whole different setting. Eventually, I adjusted and I started to like it a little bit more."
In high school, Guermali became the No. 2 runner on the cross country team. He said he was the second-best miler in the district. Considering it is Texas, let's assume that was a pretty big district.
While the family had made friends and liked their time in Texas, Said's parents still longed to return to the Northwest. Juliet, Said's mother, requested a transfer back to the region and Said had returned.
"I thought it was pretty cool that we came back here," Guermali said.
Surely it was easier to move back where he knew a lot of people than it was to move to Texas, but it was another big change in his life.
"You still have to meet new people, adjust to a new school system, and adjust to a new team," Guermali said. "It was kind of weird seeing everyone grown up and stuff. It's like I went on a long vacation and came back."
Participation in a sport, as often is the case, can help in such a transition.
Union cross country coach Scott Eschels did not know of Guermali before his Texas "vacation."
In fact, it was cross country runner Jordan Moore who told Eschels about his longtime friend, coming home.
"Jordan told me, 'I think he's going to be decent.' That's what I got from Jordan," Eschels said.
Maybe a little better than decent.
Guermali has the second-fastest time of the season among 4A GSHL runners going into Wednesday's district championship at Lewisville Park in Battle Ground.
"I just wanted to get along with my team and see how it goes," he said. "I just wanted to try my best and try for a high position. I never thought I'd make such an impact with the team. We push each other."
Of course, one could say Guermali was born to run. His father, Adam Guermali, ran at the international stage for his native Morocco and today remains in the sport as a manager. Said, though, was not sold on just running. He tried other sports, as well.
"Eventually, running just stuck," Said said. "My dad wanted me to be a runner, but he never thought I was going to be a runner."
Next season, there might be two Guermali family members running varsity for the Titans. Said's younger brother Yacine is a freshman at Union.
By then it is possible that Said Guermali will be a defending district champion. With Camas' Riley Hein and Skyview's Kaden Harbertson in the mix, coaches would probably say there is no clear-cut favorite this week, but Guermali is definitely, ahem, in the running.
"Hopefully our team wins district, also," Guermali said.
That would be as important to him as the individual title. True, running can be an individual sport, but it is the team aspect that has helped Guermali make friends at his new stops in life.
"I'd do anything for them and they'd do anything for me," Guermali said of his teammates. "We win as a team. We lose as a team. We're just really close."