Princeton assistant men's track coach Steve Dolan calls senior Donn Cabral the ultimate competitor. Cabral's teammates refer to him as Track Jesus, because they trust him.
"We know he's a warrior," sophomore Tom Hopkins said.
Late Friday afternoon at Franklin Field, Cabral had to be. Because just about every other anchor in the closing 1,600-meter leg of the Penn Relays Distance Medley Championship of America race was within spitting distance of him. From the time he took the baton until they all headed around the last turn, they were virtually together, 13 strong if you're keeping score.
But not once did any of them pass him. Which didn't seem to surprise any of the other Tigers.
"He's been as good as it gets, when you can see the tape," Dolan explained.
Added fellow senior Michael Williams, who ran the 800 just before Cabral got the baton: "When I saw he was in the lead [heading for home], I yelled, 'This is going to happen.' "
And so Cabral crossed the finish line first, to give the Ivy League its first win in this event here since Yale in 1961.
Cabral ran the second leg in last year's 4x1,500, which the Tigers won. It was their first Carnival victory since 1940.
"It feels just as good," Cabral said. "It means a lot that I have their faith. As much faith as they have in me, I have in them. We all have huge potential.
"I know I can come through when it counts, and I handle it well. It makes me stressed, but they're not expecting me to do something I can't do. All they want me to do is run a smart race and run as hard as I can, get the most out of it. As long as they're not expecting something [more] than what I can do. Then I'm happy to give it, whether the result is a win or fifth place."
There were some bigger-name programs in the hunt. Didn't matter. Cabral never gave up the lead. They could have gone another 400 meters and we might be saying the same thing.
"I'm sure we surprised some people, but people who know what they're talking about when it comes to distance running shouldn't be surprised," Cabral said. "They should know we know what we're doing, we perform big when it counts and we've got the manpower to get this. And the [4x800 again on Saturday] as well. And next year. . . ."
He said he wasn't thinking about the many footsteps right behind him. His focus was much narrower.
"Because I was in front, it wasn't 13 people [I was trying to hold off]," Cabral said. "It was two people. Me and whoever came and tried to pass me. I didn't have to deal with the crowd.
"I didn't have to deal with the pack running and the pressure of people passing me [back there]. It was just staying [on the lead] and have another gear waiting. If someone came to challenge me, I was ready to play defense and hold them off.
"On the last straightaway, I didn't feel like my legs were going that fast. I was thinking if someone was feeling good they were going to pass me right now. But I kind of looked around and no one was coming. So I got to have a little fist pump as I came across.
"The biggest thing I had [to worry about] was letting my teammates down."