"So you're totally overshadowed now! Ha, get it?" Mizumachi and the brand new recruits - all around the two metre mark in height - loomed over Kobanzame. Mizumachi grinned so irrepressibly that Kobanzame couldn't even reprimand him.
"Aah ... I guess you could put it like that," Kobanzame said. "Ahaha..."
Mizumachi grinned even wider, and then dived at Kobanzame in a tackle. Out of pure joy, by the look of it.
He came up short. There was a hand at his collar, which swiftly let go. Kakei stood behind him, a bit red in the face. "Sorry. But would you calm down? You can't go around acting that way!"
"Like what?" Mizumachi asked, and since Kakei had released him, hooked an arm around Kobanzame's neck and began knuckling his head in a friendly kind of way.
Kakei stared, perplexed, and Kobanzame groaned, in pain.
"Mizumachi's always been like this. He gets better once he's started training, since it tires him out," Kobanzame heard someone explain.
"Shall we begin practise, then?" Kakei suggested, still staring at Mizumachi as if he had serious doubts about the new recruit.
Kobanzame had been about to suggest the very same thing, but couldn't manage to get the words in order around the rattling of his head. As Mizumachi released him, running off and whipping his shirt off to get into his practise gear, he was just glad it had been said at all.
It seemed to set a tone, though. Kobanzame was still a bit out of it by the start of practise, and the freshmen were full of suggestions ("No, Mizumachi, we can't train in the nude like the Spartan warriors. Weren't you asleep in History, anyway?").
It sort of seemed to set the tone for each day after that, actually.
It's probably for the best, Kobanzame thought to himself. He only got to be captain because he liked playing football so much, that he didn't mind the extra work that went into leading the team. He was pretty good out on the field, most times, but no American middle school football ace, of course! Or a super tall amazing athlete. It was cool to have those guys on the team, like having real stars around.
The freshmen were pretty nice, too. For a while some of the older guys thought Kakei acted far too superior, but Kobanzame though that most of it was Kakei's single-mindedness about his goal. It was pretty admirable. A couple of the guys thought Ohira, Mizumachi, and Onishi were totally crazy, but ... well, they were nice enough anyway, when you got used to them, and all three were willing to work hard.
So hard! Really damn hard-working.
Take the idea about running a hundred times around school. No one but someone really into hard work would come up with that. Very impressive. When going around on lap thirty he was still wishing people would believe he'd been about to suggest it.
By lap seventy he was hoping he'd collapse out of sight so he wouldn't embarrass himself. But he had to keep going for Poseidon's win. They had a great chance at winning the Christmas Bowl this year, with their tall-men strategy and the geniuses on the team.
Four of them! One-two-three-four. Right-left-right-left.
This running laps thing really was a good idea. It did wonders for will power, never mind stamina.
It amazed Kobanzame that people could be gifted and be smart enough to think of these things and get people to agree to it, all without getting arrogant. Although Mizumachi was always making those rather arrogant remarks that tossed out innocently ... and there was stuff like Kakei sort of just taking over the captain position, and Ohira and Onishi acting like they were so great...
Kobanzame shook his head at himself, swung himself around, and staggered into the other runners and apologised. Then he focused on running and breathing properly. No time for thoughts like that, when he had to keep running.
These are the stars of the show, but it's his show too.
Ten to go! Kobanzame felt a grin on his face, and was surprised that he could still move extra muscles. Ninety laps completed! Their training prior to this hadn't been bad at all.
It was a pity, then, about that rock in his path. Kobanzame dreamily watched as it loomed closer, fully aware that he couldn't convince his feet to shift so much as a centimetre out of the way.
The fall was spectacular. The guys yelled out and some snorted with laughter. No one could see him blushing, luckily, since he was red from running.
"Wow!" Mizumachi said, setting him upright and almost knocking him over with a congratulatory slap on the back. "Amazing summersault! Do you think we could use it as a tactic in matches?"
Kobanzame was righted by a steady hand on his shoulder, and he heard a faint sigh: Kakei. "Are you okay, sempai?" he asked.
"S-sure," Kobanzame wheezed. "L-let's get..."
Kakei stuck by Mizumachi for the last few laps. He was still hoping Mizumachi could be calmed down and get at least a little common sense - he was the only one who thought it was possible, and so the team unanimously left it up to him.
In spite of everything, Kobanzame had to grin again. Mizumachi had just panted out that Kakei could be totally dumb with his narrow viewpoint, and summersaults were a great surprise technique, and maybe they could be the Kyoshin Ninja or Power Rangers instead of Poseidon. He sounded equally serious about all of it.
That was how it went at every morning run. There was no getting away from it: the freshmen were the strongest, fastest, tallest, best, most passionate, and unafraid. Kobanzame saw it with every step that they pulled ahead of the rest of the team. The best he could do was to put off running into the same rock by one lap more each day.
And yet... he didn't mind hearing the arguments and cheers and jokes of the lead four anymore, and listening to the steady tramp of running feet from the whole team was what kept him going. By now he even liked the rock a bit. Mizumachi had rated his fall yesterday as an 8.6.
Day Ten! That meant that this was the last lap he'd run into that rock. He'd skip it entirely tomorrow. Maybe. His legs seemed like they might never stop being lead. Be that as it may, for now, it slowly approached.
Kobanzame tilted his head, distracted from contemplation of the rock. Ohira and Onishi were closing in from behind, when they were usually ahead. There was no mistaking who it was: "I have the better sense of timing!" "Even if that were true, it would be to make up for your dismal lack of strength." "Oh yeah?" "Yes." "I could do it alone!" "And steal the limelight? You?"
More of the same, just about. Now, hello, rock...
Two arms hooked under his, and with a "hup!" Onishi and Ohira hefted him so that his feet ran on air, kicking above the rock.
"My plan worked," Ohira remarked - "so well that even you could follow it."
"It would have been utterly stupid and useless without me," Onishi said, and they growled and picked up speed.
"One last lap!" Mizumachi cheered. "Then to the showers!"
"Keep your shirt on," Kobanzame said automatically, along with the rest of the team.
Kobanzame thought, screw resentment. It was all totally worth it.