As Oak Park and River Forest High School senior Eamon Cavanaugh prepared for his 3,200-meter relay at the Lyons Township Invitational May 14, he received some usual last-minute inspiration.
The Huskies were winning the preceding 400 relay with senior Naahlyee Bryant anchoring.
“I see Naahlyee barreling down the track,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s just a really cool thing about this sport. Whenever we see one of our sprint guys absolutely crush the field, it just adds a lot to the whole momentum.”
Both Bryant and Cavanaugh follow older brothers and have become brothers as part of the Huskies’ 118th season. They’re key components as the OPRF prepares for the Class 3A Lane Tech Sectional on June 9 to earn qualifiers for the state meet June 19 in Charleston.
Sprinter Bryant, who will play football at Western Michigan, is going for his first top-nine, all-state honors in his first state appearance since freshman year.
Cavanaugh, who will run at Saint John’s University in St. Joseph, Minnesota, seeks his first state berth after his strongest cross country season.
“Sprints complement distance like distance complements sprints. It definitely shows what we are bringing to sectionals and how we can be one of the best teams in the state,” Bryant said.
“When I’m warming up, I’m cheering them on. When they’re better, that makes us better as a team.”
With their performances on May 26 at York, the Huskies’ 400 relay (42.65) and 800 relay (1:30.92) with Bryant are ranked No. 5 and 9 in the state this season, according to DyeStat. From the LT Invite, the 3,200 relay (8:02.52) with Cavanaugh and Bryant’s 22.29 in the 200 are No. 8 and 15.
“When [Bryant] competes, he competes hard,” said OPRF head track coach Tim Hasso, who oversees the sprinters. “The thing that makes him special and the thing that’s going to make him a quality football player is he’s got that extra gear. The most special athletes, they’ll get shoulder to shoulder with someone and all of a sudden they just take off.”
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled the 2020 track season, Bryant and older brother Naz could have finally competed together at state.
As a freshman, Naahlyee reached state in the 100 (24th, 11.25) and with the 800 relay (11th, 1:29.88). While Bryant was injured his sophomore postseason, Naz was part of the Huskies’ 2019 all-state, second-place 800 relay with two other juniors (1:27.41).
“Sophomore year was probably the lowest point,” Bryant said. “To tear my hamstring, that sucks. Now I’m healthy. I’m just excited to see what our program can do.”
At first, Cavanaugh nearly didn’t follow older brothers Finn and Declan to four seasons of cross country and track. He tried football.
“The first summer [of pre-season football], kind of realized it wasn’t for me. I found a really nice [cross country] family who are working really hard, love each other and have a lot of fun,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh competed at track sectionals as a sophomore in the 3,200 and three times at cross country sectionals, winning a 2019 regional title.
OPRF boys cross country head coach and track distance coach Chris Baldwin has Cavanaugh logging more than 8,000 training miles over his four seasons.
That example especially is important considering Cavanaugh was the only senior in the Huskies’ top-seven lineups for the 2020 West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet and IHSA regionals and sectionals.
“He’s been a training leader, really, since his sophomore year,” Baldwin said. “His dedication and his perseverance [are strengths].”
Since middle school, Bryant dreamed of playing college football. With this past OPRF football season moved to spring, it overlapped with the start of track season.
Bryant momentarily considered not returning.
“And then I saw guys at practice. I stopped by and I was like, ‘I’ve got to finish it strong.’ I didn’t want to end it on just COVID last year,” Bryant said.
“He had some concerns because Western Michigan wants those kids on campus in June. He reached out to [WMU head coach Tim] Lester and to his credit, he allowed Naahlyee to come after the season,” Hasso said. “This is something he’s really wanted. I know he wants a spot on that [all-state] Wall of Fame.”
Cavanaugh also has unfinished business. In cross country, he earned all-conference honors in the state’s toughest conference with 10th at the WSC Silver Meet after 27th as a junior. He was a team-best 48th at sectionals.
“Those state meets. It’s what we work for every day but really it’s about being around the team and having those guys to hang out with every day,” Cavanaugh said. “I’d do this sport, even if there weren’t any meets at all.”
If Bryant makes a name for himself, please spell his first name with two As. His mother intended it to be Naahlyee, but often it is spelled Nahlyee because of a clerical error.
“The doctor wrote it with one A so ever since I was born, legally it’s been one A, but at home it’s always been two As,” Bryant said.