PANA — Cody Klein’s track season started off remarkably. The Pana senior, who hadn’t participated in high school track before, was winning race after race.
Still, but everyone was trying to temper his expectations.
“People were telling me, ‘Keep doing what you are doing but eventually it is going to get hard for you,’” Klein said.
But that competition never arrived. Klein was defeated just once in his senior season, a second-place finish in the 60-meter dash at the Illinois Top Times Championships in March, and he went on to win Class 1A state titles in the 100 and 200, as well as silver medals in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.
Klein’s performance propelled Pana to an overall second-place finish and made him the Herald & Review Area Boys Track Athlete of the Year.
“Cody had steady improvement as he went through his season and the issue became actually getting him proper competition," Pana coach Will Shalter said. "He only lost one race and when he won he would finish the race all by himself in the 100-meter dash.
"For a kid to not have his (starting) block work down yet and placing second at Top Times, that's when you know you have something special and Cody was something we hadn't seen in Pana in a long time.”
Klein’s state performance brought interest from Division I track programs, but he recently announced that he accepted an offer from Division III’s Illinois College to participate on both the track and football teams.
As a wide receiver for the Panthers during their 9-2 season, he grabbed 630 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. On defense as a cornerback, he had a team-high three interceptions.
“From the very beginning, since my junior year, (Illinois College) has wanted me for football so I have been in touch with them for a long time,” Klein said. “I love the school and the coaches and so had been leaning towards them to be able to do both football and track.”
Klein’s stardom on the football field helped him when the media and colleges wanted his time and attention after the state meet.
“It had sort of been like this for football. I'm not going to be cocky, I think I'm a good football player and people think that, too. So I've been building up to this for a while and then track just set it off,” Klein said. “I love the hype and all, but I'm glad the attention is over.”
Shalter said he can’t wait for Klein to compete on the collegiate level and truly get tested by competition that is at his level.
“For me as a coach, watching him race, he wasn't gritting his teeth to get every ounce of energy out of it. He was coasting in and breaking school records,” Shalter said. “Cody has a very cool head about himself and he's not a very emotional guy in that regard. If you look at the pictures from the state finals, his arms are up before the finish line.
“That was how it was for every race. I will love to see him run at a great school and see him get challenged and see where his limit is because I don't know where it is and how fast he can run.”
Klein has trouble wrapping his mind around a track season that has culminated with a road sign on the outskirts of Pana honoring his state titles, but he is looking forward to college.
“It's a really big deal. I set some really big goals in my head and I achieved those goals and it is really cool,” he said. “At the same time, it's high school. I can't live on that forever. I have to keep building and try to get better.”
The Pana track team will move on without its record holder, but Klein’s affect on the program is undeniable.
“There have been some junior high kids who have told me, 'I'm breaking your record,' and I said, 'No you're not, but good luck. Go for it but you aren't getting it,’” Klein said. “I hope I've been an inspiration on a lot of kids to try track and I think that is pretty cool.”