WATERVILLE — When Thomas College men’s cross country coach Kerry Smart brings a potential recruit on campus, Will Janakis wants to talk to the high school kid.

“My big selling point,” Janakis said, “is, I show them the school, and I say, ‘This is how it is. We’ve got this great, small community, if you want to be a part of a team, not just a member. And we work together.’ “

Right now, Janakis is the guy to sell the team. As a sophomore last fall, he made second-team all-North Atlantic Conference, making him the first Thomas men’s runner to earn a spot on the team since the school joined the NAC in 2003.

It wasn’t a straight line to get to this point. A South Berwick native, Janakis went from a injury-plagued high school career at Marshwood High School, to an under-motivated runner at Thomas. He’s come around, and is now the program’s best ambassador.

“He started our Facebook page,” Smart said. “He was the one on me asking me if I talked to this guy or that guy. He drummed up excitement on campus. Some of the guys who hadn’t run before, I think joined the team partly because Will talked about how good things were going to be this year. He got excited, and then got me even more excited.”

When Thomas started cross country as a club team, one of the first runners was Keith Pike, another Marshwood graduate. That connection and the criminal justice program at Thomas helped lead Janakis to Waterville after a tough senior year at Marshwood.

“Senior year, I didn’t PR in anything, really,” Janakis said. “It was just one of those really disappointing things. It took me a year just to get it back, mentally.”

Smart is the first to admit she’s an old-school coach. She and Janakis also freely admit that they butted heads over Smart’s style when Janakis was a freshman.

“(The) first year, we worked out, ‘Did I know what I was doing?’ and ‘Did he trust me?’ ” Smart said.

“When you’re used to doing something for four years, and you come to someone new, it was kind of difficult,” Janakis said. “We didn’t have that communication. We had something kind of special happen last year. Rather than fighting each other, we kind of worked together.”

That season culminated with Janakis finishing 15th overall at the NAC championship meet, with a time of 29 minutes, 2 seconds. It also made him realize that he could do more this fall.

“Going into last season, I had surgery on my jaw,” Janakis said. “So technically, I had a broken jaw until the beginning of October. I was on a liquid diet. Training-wise, I came into last season having run the five days previous. This year, I’m coming off of three months of training. So 29:02 was good. I ran 29:02, but I was probably in about 28:30 shape. So I’m hoping this year to get just under 28.”

The jaw surgery was the worst injury Janakis has had at Thomas — he ate about a lifetime’s worth of SpaghettiOs and eventually resorted to stealing a hot dog from the grill at a barbecue. He’s fine now, and the training this summer is already paying off.

In a poll of the conference coaches, Thomas was picked for seventh place. Janakis thinks that’s a little low, but then, he knows firsthand why there’s a reason to be excited about Thomas cross country.

“We’ve always been that underdog team,” he said. “Last year, we were voted ninth in the conference. We finished sixth, and we were (18) points out of third. I think this year, a lot of teams don’t expect anything of us. We want to go into meets this year, and rather than trying to have five guys finish, we want to win them. We want to be top three in the conference.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

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