Devon Meth.

The resurgence of Devon Meth has led to renaissance for the Lawrence High boys’ cross country program.

After struggling through his junior campaign with an issue in his right Achilles, Meth came back strong this season and took third in the Mercer County meet at Washington Crossing Park and fourth in the NJSIAA Group III Central sectional meet Nov. 4 at Thompson Park in Jamesburg.

His sectional showing helped the Cardinals to a fifth-place team finish, putting them in the state meet for the first time in not just Meth’s lifetime, but a lot of lifetimes. “I was trying to research it, and it has to be at least the last 30 years,” coach Alex Krajunus said. “The girls have had a lot of success more recently. For the boys, it’s been over 30 years, but I’m not sure by exactly how much. We were just very excited.”

And well they should have been. With Meth leading the way in a time of 16:02 (just one second out of third place and off his personal best), Lawrence had a comfortable nine-point margin between itself and sixth-place Brick Township. The Cardinals next four runners were sophomore Jerry King (22nd, 17:15), senior Solomon Beckford (27th, 17:23), sophomore Cullen McDermott (44th, 18:04) and junior Dylan Morris (19:04).

“It’s a great feeling,” Meth said. “In the past we haven’t been as strong as a lot of other teams. I knew we had the chance because we’ve been training hard. We put more effort into our summer training than we did in the past. And we have a lot of people that enjoy running. A lot of people in the other years weren’t into it. So that’s a big thing.”

Meth also feels that the team culture has improved. “I knew people wanted it,” he said. “So as long as we wanted it there was that chance. Honestly it was a good surprise. We weren’t ranked very high going in there as a team. Even my dad said, ‘Where did Lawrence come from?’ So it was a good feeling.”

That’s the opposite of Meth’s junior year, when he wasn’t feeling good at all when it came to his results or his health.

After showing strong potential as a freshman and sophomore, Meth began to experience problems in his foot toward the end of spring track season. The injury was an accumulation of all the training he did growing up, as Meth also did triathlons.

The pain subsided slightly but as he was training it returned over the summer.

“I took some days off and it was weird,” he said. “It started going away; just running I was going through it and it was feeling fine, but after one race in late September it came back and I had to back off for a week or two.”

When he returned, Meth could never get in a strong rhythm. He finished 43rd in the county meet and out of the Top 20 in the sectional meet.

“Last year, his results weren’t what anybody was expecting on the team,” Krajunus said. “The injury kind of nagged at him. He needed time to recover.”

Meth took off the winter track season and returned for spring, but still felt some after-effects. He finally decided to change a few things, and opted for cross-training as opposed to constant distance runs over the summer.

“I kind of corrected things,” he said. “I was more aware of it, I adapted to it. I didn’t do a lot of running over the summer. I kind of pushed through it as much as I could. When it was time, it was time.

“The cross training allowed my body to recover. In cross training I do elliptical and bike. It’s lower impact. I still wanted to get the running workouts in so I wouldn’t completely lose it. But I took out my easy distance days because there weren’t really any benefits that I wouldn’t get out of a bike ride.”

His senior season opened with an 18th-place finish at the Cherokee Challenge, where he ran the 3200 race in 10:13.88 and was beat out by West Windsor-Plainsboro South’s Austin True by less than a second. Meth filed that information away.

Meth continued his comeback and a month later felt he was all the way back after winning the CVC Valley Division meet. “Before that I ran a (PR) 16:50 and 16:40 and I went 16:30 in the division meet,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to do a lot but somewhere in the middle of the race I kind of started breaking away. I had a pretty good separation because I didn’t want to kick hard because that might aggravate it.

“Once I realized I could perform that well after not as much running it kind of eased my stress level of not being able to run all the time (in training). Once I accepted that it really helped me.”

Krajunus agreed, saying “I think being able to have some early success kind of allowed him to hit the reset button after his junior results. He thought, ‘Oh wow I can take care of myself and still have success; and I don’t have to go as crazy with training where I get hurt.’”

Meth took that confidence to the Oct. 25 county meet, where he ran a personal record of 16:01 in finishing third behind Allentown’s Liam Murphy and West Windsor-North’s Luke Johnson. This time, he finished three seconds ahead of True.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like that,” Meth said. “I knew North and South had a good pack, I thought if I could stay among them I could do well. The second time we hit the hill, obviously Murphy and Johnson were way ahead so I was toward the top of the chase pack. I started breaking away going into the woods.

“Once we hit the hill I had to get some space in between and I kind of pretended the guy behind (True) was right on my heels. He outkicked me at the last second at Cherokee so I was like, ‘This is not gonna happen again.’ I didn’t know my time was at a 16:01 pace. If I’d have seen that I could have squeaked just under (16), but still, it was a good race for me.”

As was the sectional meet, for Meth and the whole team. And while his goal was to break 16 minutes this year, he knew the challenge of running Holmdel Park at states would be daunting, he was told his times at Washington Crossing and Jamesburg equated to the 16:20s at Holmdel.

Meth ended up running a 16:25 at the Group III meet and finishing 8th overall, which advanced him to his first Meet of Champions on Nov. 23. It capped an outstanding comeback year for the senior.

“He knew what he was capable of and he spent a serious amount of time getting healthy and rehabbing his foot,” Krajunus said. “He did just such a fantastic job for us this season. We were trying to be careful with not trying to aggravate any more injuries. By keeping him healthy we got those results out of him.”

They also watched him fulfill the potential he showed from the beginning.

“Going back to his ninth grade year, we kind of knew Devon was somebody special and had this tremendous amount of work ethic. You just kind of know this person is going to be very talented. His work has been paying off a lot for him.”

Meth is hoping to run in college next year. He ran at the University of Virginia camp and has been in touch with the Cavaliers coach, and has also applied to North Carolina. He wants to improve his track times since that is what colleges base much of their recruiting on. If UVA or UNC do not work out, he has also applied to several Division II and III schools.

“Just seeing the progress he’s made and the way he’s grown in 12th grade; as great as he is now I think in college he’s really gonna hit his stride,” Krajunus said. “I’m looking forward to that for him.”