As he entered his freshman year at Woodstock, Cornett took to the gym for conditioning workouts and found himself lapping his teammates.
On one of those days when Cornett was lapping the other guys, cross-country coach Kirk Scharich was taking a walk through the gym. Scharich tracked down Cornett as he walked to his father’s car after practice.
“I said, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ and he told me,” Scharich recollected. “I said, ‘How about running cross country?’ and his dad said, ‘How about it, J.C.?’ ‘You can try a day or two. You don’t have to join the team.’
“So, the next day, he came out and ran 5 miles, and he looked good. If that hadn’t happened, he might have never ran. He was one that was just going to play basketball.”
Cornett tells the story much the same.
“I was one of the better kids on the first day, so I thought I would stick with it,” he said. “I ended up quitting basketball after my sophomore year to run.”
The decision has clearly paid off.
In addition to running cross county, he took up track in the spring, competing in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.
Over the next few years, Cornett became Woodstock’s top distance runner.
He capped his senior track season by winning county titles in both the 1,600 (4 minutes, 31.18 seconds) and 3,200 (9:39.40). In the Region 5AAAAAA meet, he placed third in the 3,200 and fifth in the 1,600. He went on to qualify for state in the 3,200, where he ran a personal-best 9:31.49 to place seventh.
For all of his accomplishments this season, Cornett is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
Cornett said he was more concerned with setting an example for his teammates than winning accolades himself this season. He said that, when he was an underclassman, he looked up to former Woodstock standouts Brett Carter and Alex Broome.
“I was always trying to keep up with them,” Cornett said. “I think that’s what made me so fast when I was younger. I was always right on their heels.”
Cornett, who said he’s grateful that Scharich got him started with running, feels he would have missed out on a lot of opportunities had he stuck with just basketball — among them a Division I scholarship offer.
Cornett signed to run at Western Carolina and, in preparation, he’s stepping up the number of miles he runs.
“When I get there, I don’t want it to be a shock to my body with how much I have to run,” said Cornett, who recently competed in his first half-marathon. “I want to get in more miles than I did last summer and focus on the weight room and lifting.”
Cornett said he enjoys running because he can see progress quickly and mark his improvement. He encourages anyone who is interested being active to start running.
“If you put the effort in, you will get better,” Cornett said. “It’s not one of those sports that you have to be naturally good at. It helps if you are, but if you give it your all and you put the effort in, you will get better.”