Eleanor Roosevelt High School's Matt Bettencourt made a strong first impression on Raiders cross-country coach Bill Kurtz in his first few practices last season.

However, Kurtz did not know if it would last.

"Sometimes you have runners who come out who are a flash in the pan and who break down or do not make all the practices," Kurtz said. "For a 10th-grader, [Bettencourt] did very, very well. He has a heart that is big as can be and there's no quit in him. He knows only one speed--he goes hard."

As a junior this fall, Bettencourt has left little doubt that his sophomore season was no fluke. He is the Raiders' top runner and is one of Prince George's County's top runners, finishing behind only one county opponent this season.

"I knew I was going to be [Roosevelt's] number one, and I did not want to be a mediocre number one," Bettencourt said. "I did not want to be number one at Roosevelt and be number 4,002 in the county. I wanted to stay consistent and compete in the county."

Two years of varsity wrestling have helped Bettencourt learn his physical limitations. He compiled a 13-5 record last winter in the 140-pound weight class. And running has helped him wrestle--first, it helped him drop from 152 pounds to 140, then it helped him on the mat.

"It was just one of those things. I would either jump rope for three hours or I would go out and run," Bettencourt said. "When I wrestle my matches, the other guy will get tired later in the match. That's when I'll still be at my top performance."

Bettencourt's performance this fall has been exceptional. He won the first and third county meets of the season and he placed seventh at Hereford High's Bull Run Invitational in the large schools division on Sept. 25, finishing in 17 minutes 51 seconds. Last Saturday, Bettencourt finished eighth in the Division II race at the Georgetown Prep Cross-Country Classic (17:23.33).

His lone loss to a county opponent came on Sept. 29, when Bowie's Duwayne Aikins beat him by five seconds, 17:50 to 17:55, at the second county meet at Greenbelt National Park. Bettencourt has not finished lower than 14th overall in any invitational this season.

Bettencourt's "determination and his desire not to be beat are his biggest strengths," Kurtz said. "He is a thinking runner, he runs a smart race."

Bettencourt also showed promise in outdoor track last spring, placing sixth in the 3,200 meters (10:56.55) at the Prince George's County championships.

Bettencourt maintains a cumulative grade-point average of 3.71. He also is a second lieutenant in the Air Force ROTC and is a junior commander of the precision drill team at Roosevelt. It makes for long days, but Bettencourt said he wouldn't have it any other way.

"The days can get long, but I'm very happy with the way things are going," Bettencourt said. "I don't have any regrets or think, 'I wish I could have,' and I am pleased with where I am."

CAPTION: Raiders' No. 1 cross-country runner Matt Bettencourt has a 3.71 GPA.