The more physically and mentally mature Soldotna senior Kyle McBride gets, the harder he is to catch.
"Everyone can say this, but I remember watching him when he came in and telling an assistant coach, 'That guy's gonna be good,'" said Soldotna track and cross country coach Mark Devenney. "Back then, though, he was just so frail.
"It took a great deal of dedication and maturation for him to get where he is today."
Today, McBride is one of the state's premier prep distance runners and also was recently named the boys Senior Athlete of the Year at SoHi. He dominated the cross country season in the fall, losing only one race en route to a runaway victory at the Class 4A state meet.
This spring, McBride has continued to post solid times in track and is considered a threat to take state titles in the distance events.
"He's always wanted to be good, but he's never believed he was good," Devenney said. "Now, he does believe he's good.
"It's been kind of fun watching him grow up."
When McBride came to Soldotna, he was a lanky 110 pounds. McBride's mother, Tori, said Kyle's plan was to run cross country his freshman year to get in shape, then go out for football his sophomore year.
There was one problem.
"He was only about this big around," said Tori, forming a circle with her fingers that one would be hard pressed to slide an egg through without cracking it.
What's more, McBride also enjoyed early success as a runner. He finished second in a freshman-sophomore meet that included most of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's younger runners. He followed that up with an 18th-place showing at the state meet.
Just as McBride's father, Mike, had made a career of running in high school, Kyle decided that running was the thing for him.
"Once he started to get into it, we started to talk about running more and more," said Mike, a 400-meter runner who qualified for the Oregon small-schools state meet for four years in high school. "It wasn't like I pushed him into it, though."
During his sophomore cross country campaign, McBride continued to come of age.
"Halfway into his sophomore year in cross country, he started hanging in on some of the really tough runs in practice," Devenney said.
It was at that point McBride was realizing what an asset talented teammates could be.
"I never could have done it without some of the seniors I ran with that year, like Brandon Newbould and Mark Musgrove," McBride said. "I also couldn't have done it without all the teammates I've run with since then."
McBride placed seventh in the state cross country meet as a sophomore as the Stars won what would be the first of three straight Class 4A state titles.
Encouraged by the state title, McBride and teammates threw themselves into a training program mapped out by Devenney the summer before McBride's junior year.
"He just such a great coach and he knows so much about the sport," McBride said. "He's always explaining what needs to be done.
"If you just do what he tells you to do, you'll continue to grow as a runner."
McBride slipped -- literally -- to 10th place in the state his junior year. With the 5-kilometer race more than half over, McBride was in a lead pack with two other runners when teammate Andy Liebner accidentally stepped on McBride's foot and made him lose his shoe. McBride fell to 10th place in the race, but the Stars still won the state title.
"What he was really concerned about was the team," Tori said. "After he found out it didn't hurt the team, it became a joke.
"People would say things like, 'Next time, you'd better use duct tape to wrap your shoe on.'"
In the spring of his junior year, McBride's ill fortune continued when a sprained ankle made him ineffective during the short track season.
All this made McBride's state title in cross country as a senior more dramatic.
"From past experience, I knew anything could happen in one of those races," Tori said of her experience at this year's state meet. "I was a bundle of nerves until he crossed the finish line."
Those around McBride, and even McBride himself, say his success this year has come from a more businesslike attitude about running.
"He's a lot more serious about it this year," Mike said. "He's shooting for times and places, and he gets disappointed when he doesn't do what he was hoping to do in a race."
McBride also has gotten into weights, plyometrics and swimming to give him a physical strength he's never had before as a runner.
The results have been apparent this track season. McBride always had problems with his health during track and had never won so much as a borough title before this year.
Last weekend he changed that, winning the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Track and Field Meet.
Heading into that meet, McBride, normally known as an ace at the longer distances, had one of the state's top times in the 800 meters.
"He's always had the (leg) turnover to do well in the 800," Devenney said. "Up until now, he's just never had the strength to keep it up."
McBride, who has a 3.46 grade point average and is an Eagle Scout, will attend Spokane Community College next year in Spokane, Wash. He would like to pursue a career in crime scene investigation.
In Spokane, he also wants to keep maturing as a runner in hopes of getting some attractive Division I offers.
"I think we've only started to see how good he's going to be," Devenney said. "I could see him being really special in the 5,000 meters or the 3,000-meter steeplechase."
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