Joel Nyatusah hates to lose.
Talk to the Overland junior for just a few minutes or watch him at practice and that becomes crystal clear in a hurry.
The good news for Nyatusah is that he doesn’t lose. At least not yet. A second faster than he was last season, Nyatusah is undefeated in the spring, clocked the top 110 meter hurdles time in the entire country at one point and emerged as Colorado’s preeminent talent in the event.
“I hate losing, I really hate losing,” Nyatusah said at a recent Overland practice as he shook his head for emphasis.
“I guess that’s why I don’t panic when the first part of my race doesn’t go so good. I see somebody in front of me and I know I have to go get them. Then everything starts hitting and coming together and I go on and win.
“That’s when my competitive nature comes out.”
That competitive nature pushed him to new, remarkable heights March 22 at All-City Stadium.
Coming off a time of 14.33 seconds in the 110 hurdles at the Aurora City Championships a week earlier, Nyatusah come into the Denver South Invitational with any particularly lofty expectations.
He didn’t feel that great, hadn’t eaten before the meet and found himself slow out of the blocks and feeling the heat from Smoky Hill’s Darrius Gaw midway through the race.
Then, that competitive nature kicked in.
Nyatusah’s burst between the hurdles — one of the things that makes him so difficult to beat — pushed him past Gaw and to the finish line for a win by 0.11 of a second.
“I hit the fifth hurdle and I heard the dude next to me, Darius, and I thought ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go with him or else I’m going to lose,’’ Nyatusah recalled.
“I just went with him. The last two hurdles were where it really counted. I got them and got the win.”
While it satisfied his hunger to win, the time that flashed on the scoreboard proved monumental for Nyatusah.
With a 13.98, he had finally cracked the elusive 14-second barrier. The time also proved to be tops in the entire country according to the Milesplit.com national database.
“He ran that time and ran a bad race,” Overland hurdles coach Bruce Reed said. “He pulled his trail leg and he got a little lazy.”
Nyatusah hasn’t been able to match that time since, but he’s subsequently won the prestigious Mullen Invitational and Pomona Invitational.
He’s become the first topic of conversation when other coaches see Overland head coach Steve Sewell at meets.
“When we go to track meets, somebody is always asking me about Joel,” Sewell said. “When he initially ran his first time, some schools didn’t believe it. They thought there was wind or the timing system was off, but they are going to keep seeing it each week.
“He’s going to get better and better.”
That’s the exciting part for Reed, who has an athlete to work with who has that competitive nature that can’t be taught, the physical tools to be elite and a work ethic to match.
Reed — who coached Overland’s Josh Wright to the Class 5A 110 hurdles state championship in 2015 — also has a tremendous frame of reference.
His son, Darius Reed, won the 5A state championship in the event in 2006 for George Washington and finished second in the nation with a time of 13.60 seconds. Darius Reed went on to a college career at UCLA.
Reed’s son had the same larger build as Nyatusah and also shared his difficulties with starts.
“He’s built the same way as my son, so I’m training him like my son,” Reed said. “I have experience dealing with somebody of his size and getting them to do the right work.
“Hurdles are technical. If you want to run it, you have to really put your time in and work on it.”
Reed knows exactly how competitors have and will continue to try to beat Nyatusah: get out of the blocks fast, get over the first two hurdles with a lead and make him chase them down.
Nyatusah is able to do just that, but he’s doing the work on his starts to give him an edge.
“I have to work hard every week, I cannot slack off at all or else somebody is going to come after me and it’s not going to look so good,” Nyatusah said. “I just don’t want to lose, so I just keep working hard.”
Nyatusah is at the forefront of Aurora’s incredible stable of hurdlers this season.
Through competition of April 19, city boys hurdlers had the three fastest times in 5A in the 110s: Nyatusah (13.98), Regis Jesuit’s Zion Gordon (14.04) and Gaw (14.09).
Cherokee Trail’s Dillon Andrews is the Colorado all-classification leader in the 300 hurdles with a time of 38.82 seconds recorded at the Broomfield Shootout, with Hinkley’s Oscar Sarabia third (39.10).
And two-time defending 300 hurdles state champion Angel Heredia of Hinkley has just one meet under his belt as he returns to health. Heredia swept the hurdles events at the Platte Valley Invitational April 23.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports