Running long distances is an activity that doesn't appeal to many people. It's Devin Neff's favorite hobby.

Running long distances is an activity that doesn't appeal to many people.

It's Devin Neff's favorite hobby.

The Mark Twain junior has raced to the top of leaderboards during the track and field season with ever-growing endurance and a daily desire to beat his own times.

“I love competing against people that want to try,” Neff said. “I just love running with people. Just having the person in front of me, that just motivates me.”

That mentality leads him into the Class 2 state championships in Jefferson City this weekend, where he will compete in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.

“He's the type of kid that he likes to run,” Mark Twain boys coach Karl Asbury said. “You can't teach people to like to run. He's just one of them. It just comes kind of natural for him.”

Neff, who placed 10th at state in the two-mile contest a year ago, returns there following a season in which he never placed lower than fourth in the event.

The standout placed second in the 3,200 on May 2 at the Eastern Missouri Conference meet and earned runner-up in Class 2 District 2 before claiming a Class 2 sectional title with a time of 10:26.88 in Hillsboro last Saturday. 

“I feel like I'm getting stronger every meet, every practice, every run,” Neff said. “Every time I step on the track, I feel like I'm getting better. I'm feeling great.” 

Neff's success transfers to the 1,600, where he won the EMO title and took home the district crown with a time of 4:53.79. The junior then set a new personal best of 4:44.60 at the sectional meet to place fourth and advance to state.

While the stage he runs on may be bigger this weekend, Neff enters the state meet with the same goals as for any other. 

“I just go in there and think, 'Hey, I've got to be the best,'” he said of his racing mentality. “That's not trying to be cocky in any way whatsoever, I just put my mind to it and go out there and work to get better.”

Neff has his sights set on making the podium at state for the first time in his track career. 

It would be an encore performance to his all-state cross country season this past fall, when he finished 15th in Class 2 with a 5K time of 17:22.7.

The junior followed that up by competing at the National Youth Championships on Nov. 9 at Angel Mounds Cross Country Cross in Evansville, Indiana, where he finished 35th overall.

Erin Mack, Mark Twain's cross country coach who also leads the girls track and field squad, called Neff a “rare find in a small town athlete.”

“A lot of kids have dreams of becoming pro athletes,” Mack said. “Although Devin does not have that mindset, he just wants to compete to the best of his ability in each meet. Every meet is a challenge for him and he doesn't think about what happened in the last race, or what might happen in the next race, he looks at what he can do in that race, at that moment, to put him in the best finishing position.”

“I do not have the words to describe how proud I am of this young man,” she continued. “He continues to amaze me with his character, ability, energy and positive outlook on everything.”

Perhaps as outgoing as he is good at running, Neff often can be found having conversations while running. An intense competitor, he also knows when to take it down a notch, according to Asbury.

“Overall, I'm mostly a positive, pretty fun guy,” Neff said with a smile. “That's just what I'm thinking.”

Joining Neff at the state meet this weekend will be his sister, Katie, a Culver-Stockton commit who will compete as part of the Lady Tigers 4x800 relay team.

Neff credits his sister for providing him with extra motivation. 

“It's a family rivalry,” he said. “We go at each other and everything is competition and I'm glad we can push each other in the races. We're motivating for each other.”

With one more meet before the track season inevitably concludes, Neff has a dream finish in mind. 

“Get those medals at state,” he said. “Whatever it takes. It really doesn't matter what place I come in as long as I get those medals at state.”