But as the state championships begin today in Jefferson, the Marietta brothers’ growth in the sport has them as the favorites to win state titles in their respective key events, the 100- and 800-meter runs.
On one particular day in the spring of 2012, the weather was nice enough for KirVonte’, then a freshman, to join friend Tyree Harris on the track.
Benson was done with basketball practice and went down to see Harris, a wide receiver on the Blue Devils football team and sprinter on the track team, practice.
Benson’s competitive nature immediately surfaced.
“I wanted to race him,” Benson said of Harris. “I knew he was one of the fastest guys on the team, so I wanted to see how I’d do against him. We raced and I beat him.”
It didn’t take long before boys track and field coach Nick Houstoulakis found out what Benson had done.
“Coach came to my class and asked me to try out for track,” Benson said. “I saw them practice, but didn’t think I was much of a track sprinter. My focus had always been on basketball.”
Benson did, however, join the track team midway through the season, and he quickly showed that he belonged.
“He came out around the time of the Cobb County championship and ran 11 (seconds) flat (in the 100),” Houstoulakis said. “That was amazing. He kept competing throughout the season and was the only freshman to qualify for the 100 at state.
“We really knew he was special at that point.”
KirVonte’s younger brother, Khayvonn, has also proven to be special since he was discovered by Chad Christman, the Marietta girls coach who also works alongside Houstoulakis with the boys athletes.
“Coach Christman found Khayvonn on the basketball court his freshman year and convinced him to come out for track,” Houstoulakis said. “You could tell he had the build of an 800-meter runner, and he excelled right away.”
As KirVonte’ entered his sophomore season with the track team in 2013, Khayvonn joined as a freshman, specializing in running the middle distances. KirVonte’ had also already established himself as an effective running back for the Marietta football team in fall 2012.
“I had always been focused on basketball, like my brother,” Khayvonn said. “When coach asked me to join track, I already knew I was going to because I saw how well my brother did in his freshman year. I saw him win, so I knew I had to produce.”
KirVonte’ went on to win the state championship in the 100 last spring, while Khayvonn got as far as the sectional after suffering a stress fracture in his leg.
The brothers continued to train during the offseason, and the Marietta coaching staff encouraged Khayvonn to join the cross country team in the fall to help him improve his endurance level and his finishing kick for middle-distance events.
“I already had the speed,” Khayvonn said. “Cross-country running helped me hold it.”
All of the training comes down to this weekend, where KirVonte’ is favored to repeat as the champion in the 100. He’ll also have opportunities to win state titles in the 200 and long jump.
Khayvonn won the 800 and 1,600 at the sectional two weeks ago, so his chances of capturing gold in those events are high as well. Both runners will also compete on Marietta’s 1,600 relay team.
“Khayvonn was a natural fit for the relay,” Houstoulakis said. “KirVonte’ begged to run the 4x400 during his sophomore year. That’s rare. Kids usually shy away from that, but one of our guys got hurt, so we put him in and he ran an outstanding time.
“Those kids are definitely athletes, and on top of all that talent, they’re also very competitive. It makes our job easier because they’re always trying to outdo each other, which brings out the best in both of them.”
The brothers’ competitiveness drives them in virtually every aspect of their lives.
“My brother and I compete against each other in everything, whether it’s class or sports or whatever,” KirVonte’ said, “Our parents were athletes, and we are, too.”
“We fight over everything, from being the best at video games to how much food we eat at dinner,” Khayvonn added. “(Being competitive) has helped us both. It’s made us better.”
During the week, the brothers participate in their normal training routines after school. They train on their own Sundays after church, running different sprint and middle-distances races in preparation for the week.
“When coach asked me to try out, I found out that I had this hidden talent, and now I’m just trying to get better and better,” KirVonte’ said. “He saw the potential in me, so I’m trying to be the best I can be.”
The brothers not only run for themselves, one another and their team. They also run for their mother, Diana.
“My mom ran track, too, but gave it up when she had me,” KirVonte’ said. “I owe her for that.”
The brothers will soon see if their dreams of winning state championships together comes true this weekend. The long jump and 1,600 finals take place today. Finals in the 100, 200, 800 and 1,600 relay will be Saturday.
Preliminary running events are Friday.
“Without (KirVonte’), I don’t think I’d be as good as I am,” Khayvonn said. “We push each other. I want to outshine him, and he wants to outshine me. Hopefully, we’ll both get those state championships.”