Frank Myatt teaches English at Deering High School, but he’s a big fan of history, particularly when it comes to the runners on his cross country team.

“I always try to keep it as relevant as I can,” Myatt said before a recent practice. “Running cross country for Deering is different from running cross country elsewhere. Same with track. There’s a certain tradition, and we’re always trying to push that forward.”

Before any of his current runners were born, the Deering boys earned four cross country state titles in the span of 10 years: 1964, ’67, ’69 and ’73. Purple pride resurfaced in 2002, when five Rams finished among the top 15 in Class A to win the first of two consecutive state championships.

Mike Burleson, the new coach at Westbrook, was among Deering’s top five runners in 2002. He spent the past two falls as a volunteer assistant to Myatt. Donny Drake, Jon McGonagle, Sean Steinhagen and Steve Kress were also on that stellar 2002 squad. After all five graduated, the Rams won again in 2003 with a completely different lineup.

Fourteen years later, Deering finds itself on the doorstop of a seventh title. The Rams were runners-up in Class A to Falmouth last fall, and four of their top five scorers return. Last Thursday, at the SMAA Relays at Thornton Academy, the aggregate time for the designated 1-5 runners from both Falmouth and Deering was exactly 38 minutes and 26 seconds.

“Last year, at the beginning of the season, we knew we’d do well, but we didn’t think we’d be second to Falmouth or second in the Class A state meet,” said senior Yahya Nure, who at third in regionals and ninth in states was Deering’s highest finisher. “We’ve progressed really well individually and as a team, so this year, I feel like we believe in ourselves more, coming off a year of success.”

Nure recently returned from a two-month visit to his native Ethiopia, from which he emigrated at age 3. At nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, the sprawling capital of Addis Ababa allowed for training at altitude, but Nure said he wasn’t used to the diet and lifestyle and dropped too much weight. He returned to Maine at 120 pounds, down 15 from his competitive racing weight.

“The altitude is supposed to make you faster, but I’m not overall as healthy as I’d like to be,” he said. “Aerobically, I feel amazing. But sometimes I just feel very dizzy or light-headed. I need to eat more and hydrate more.”

Nure was leading his race of No. 2 runners at the SMAA Relays when he took a wrong turn with less than a mile remaining and wound up 2 seconds behind Falmouth junior John Auer. Deering junior Alex Troxell posted the day’s fastest time, 7:14, over a course roughly half the distance of a traditional 5K.

“Last year we built a good team,” Troxell said. “This year, we put in a lot more summer training.”

Falmouth and Deering aren’t the only teams in contention among Class A boys. Scarborough, the 2014 and 2015 state champ, is much improved. Massabesic is always strong. And now Greely, a perennial power in Class B, finds itself in A, one student over the cutoff set by the MPA.

“That’s a biggie, because they’re used to winning,” Troxell said of Greely. “They have a very solid top five, so they’re going to be a threat.”

Abdikadir Abdirahman, a senior born in Kenya to a Somali family, came to Portland at age 8. He said having Falmouth in the SMAA this year (after leaving the Western Maine Conference) will give the Rams more chances to gauge their primary competition.

“So (we’ll be) more prepared for the regionals and state meet,” Abdirahman said. “It’ll let us know not if we can beat them, necessarily, but what we’re going up against.”

Jerry Mixangelo, a junior, came to Deering from Farmington after spending his freshman year at Mt. Blue and is the team’s third returning scorer. He’s dealing with knee issues that surfaced last winter, but he was third among No. 3 runners at the SMAA Relays, behind Jeffrey Waters of Massabesic and Alex Kinley of Falmouth.

The winner of the No. 5 race was Gannon Duckworth, a 6-foot-4 Deering senior who spent last year in Montana and the two before that in New Orleans. He was born in Texas, but moved to Portland soon after and attended Clifford and Hall elementary schools.

When both he and Nure were small, they played basketball together on Craigie Street, a realization that only came to light last week.

Having run for two other high school programs, including the 2016 national champs at Boze-man High (he was on the JV team), Duckworth senses something special with this group.

“They’re pretty close,” he said. “They all encourage each other. Everybody’s pulling each other forward. I think that’s a key part of having a good team.”

Whether they’re good enough to add to a proud purple tradition won’t be known until the final Saturday of October at Twin Brook in Cumberland, Greely’s home course.

“I don’t think about them,” Nure said of the Rangers. “I feel like we’ll win states this year.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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