John Curtis cross country team primed for big year _lowres

Advocate Photo by VERONICA DOMINACH - Devin Keith with John Curtis leads the race during a high school cross country meet in City Park, New Orleans, La on Monday, September 3, 2014.

When you think of state championships and you think of John Curtis Christian School, you think of football.

But a group of talented and eager high schoolers is hoping to change that mentality — even if just a little bit.

The John Curtis boys cross country team won its first state title last year, and did so in impressive fashion. The Patriots scored 25 points in the Class 3A Louisiana State Cross Country Championship in November in Natchitoches, placing each of five scoring runners in the top-10. The group was led by individual state champion Devin Keith, who finished the 3-mile course in 16 minutes, 8.58 seconds.

The nearest competitor for team honors was E.D. White, which finished a distant second.

Keith, now a junior, returns to pace John Curtis this season, as do three other members of that trend-setting quintet. They all said that anything less than a repeat at state this season would be disappointing.

“Last year, we knew that was a big opportunity for us,” Keith said. “Coming into this season, at this point, I think we’re racing ourselves. We’re trying to break barriers and break walls. We bust our butts in practice every day. That’s where you see (the hard work.)”

Hard work and obvious talent was on display Wednesday when the Patriots hosted a 2-mile invitational at New Orleans City Park. Keith led the field, which was peppered with Class 5A athletes, with a time of 10:12.37. Teammates Trey Stewart (third, 10:31.91;) Zachery Barthel (fifth, 10:48.14;) Tyler Dugas (sixth, 10:53.60;) and Austin Brown (10th, 11:00.99) rounded out the winning effort for Curtis.

Coach Preston Curtis said the meet was a solid start, and that the road to repeating as state champs began in the offseason.

“The kids put in the miles during the summer,” he said. “They hold each other accountable. They know that they are only as strong as their weakest link. The thing (about this group) is that everyone’s pulling in the same direction to get us to the top.”

In Class 3A, the “top” begins with Keith. His time at state last year would have been good enough to win the 4A race, and would have placed him 10th in the 5A race. He said his goal is to be the fastest in all classes.

“I’ve been below 16 (minutes) at this point,” he said. “I’m trying to be number one in the state overall. I don’t want anyone to beat me. I’m going to work hard for it. I know it’s not coming on a silver platter.”

Keith’s teammates plan to show the same work ethic and are confident it can get them to where they want to be at season’s end.

“I have some pretty high standards for the whole season,” said Brown, a junior who finished fourth at state last year. “I want to break 15:10. We want a 16 minute average as a team. … All the training we’ve put in, (we can do it.)”

Stewart, a senior who placed fifth in Natchitoches in 2013, has similar standards.

“Definitely one of the team goals is to go undefeated for the whole season in Louisiana competition,” he said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work. I want to get into the 15:20 area this year as a senior. If we can do things like that, then as a team, I think we’ll do some really good things.”

Their coach agreed.

“What I feel our cross country team has done is represent what we are all about at John Curtis,” Curtis said. “If we can get the kids to buy in, we’re going to be good. The bar has been set high, but these guys have made it.”