Competitive fire burns in John Curtis’ Devyn Keith _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- Devyn Keith of John Curtis finishes first Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, during the Catholic High Invitational cross country meet at Highland Road Park.

Devyn Keith still remembers those days sitting in a restaurant and playing tick-tack-toe against his little brother as the family waited for the food to arrive.

Sometimes Devyn would win.

Sometimes his little brother would win.

“If he beat me, I would throw a little temper tantrum,” Keith recalled. “I hated losing. I guess I was just born that way.”

That desire to win never went away.

Keith has carried that over to cross country, where he has won back-to-back Class 3A state championships at John Curtis.

On Thursday, the junior standout was named Louisiana’s Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year. He is the first Curtis athlete to win Louisiana’s Gatorade honor for cross country.

It is the eighth time a Curtis athlete has been named the state’s Gatorade athlete of the year. Former softball player Ashley Brignac won the award twice.

“It’s another accolade I can put it in my closet,” Keith said. “I’m still working for other things though. This was for Louisiana. Hopefully next year I can win it for the nation.”

Keith, also named Runner of the Year on The New Orleans Advocate All-Metro Cross-Country Team, set a personal best time of 14 minutes, 53 seconds at the St. Thomas Aquinas Rollette Invitational in October.

He has even loftier goals for his senior season.

“I’m hoping to break the state record,” Keith said. “Hopefully I can set it by a good 10 or 15 seconds. I’m just hoping to get a lot better.”

In addition to his cross country success, Keith has excelled in track and field as well. He won 800- and 1,600-meter state titles in the 2014 indoor and outdoor state track championships. He also won the 3,200-meter title in the outdoor championship.

“When it’s time to compete, he knows how to turn it on,” Patriots cross country coach Preston Curtis said. “He doesn’t like to lose. He is going to find a way to compete and do his very best.”

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t really into sports just a few short years ago. Before he started running, the only sport he played was soccer in the front yard with his friends.

Then he was asked in a physical education class at Curtis about running.

“I didn’t have anything better to do, so I said ‘why not?’ ” Keith recalled. “It took off from there.”

He placed second in his first race with the junior varsity team.

“I got pretty stoked about that,” he said. “… I never minded the pain. Running can be painful, but it’s only temporary.”

Other coaches have noticed his prowess.

“Apart from being the best distance runner in the state, his level of intensity and seriousness that he brings with him to race always impressed me,” Lusher cross country coach Dawson McCall said. “He seems always ready to race and is a tenacious competitor.”

The Gatorade honor isn’t just for his success in athletics. It also takes into account accomplishments in the classroom and the community.

Keith has maintained a 3.0 grade-point average. He is a member of the student council, spirit club and poetry club and a columnist for the student newspaper. He has volunteered as a youth running instructor, as part of Rotary International’s Interact club.

“It’s fairly easy,” Keith said when asked about juggling athletics and academics. “You just have to work on time management.

“I could go home and mess around and then if I have extra time, I can text and play video games.”