Mark Twain senior Devin Neff looks to cement his status as one of the top distance runners in the state this weekend at the Class 2 track and field championships.

Devin Neff is straightforward about his mission.

The Mark Twain senior hopes to cement his status as one of the top distance runners in the state this weekend at the Class 2 track & field championships in Jefferson City.

This will be his third straight trip to the state track meet following top-10 finishes in both the 1,600 and 3,200 last year. The Hannibal-LaGrange University signee is confident there remains another gear he can reach to fuel his path back to the podium. 

“Picture it like LeBron James in the NBA playoffs,” Neff said. “That's what I want my mindset to be. I'm carrying my school one last time. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go out there until my body drops.”

Neff's track career has been a methodical rise to the top.

Neff remembers the feeling of missing state his freshman year, when he placed sixth at sectionals in the mile to miss the cut.

That's when his year-round training intensified.

“My freshman year, I didn't make it to state, but I thought it would be amazing to be up there with the big guys,” he said. “The past three years, I've been there. I've been working every single day in practice doing the little things that I need to do. It means everything to me.” 

All the while, Neff has been a standout in the fall as a four-time state qualifier for the Tigers cross country program. 

He improved his place at the state cross country championships each year, from 112th to 47th to 15th to seventh as a senior, when he secured his second consecutive all-state honor with a 5K time of 17:15.6. 

Neff's progress carried over to the track each spring. As a sophomore, he qualified for the state meet in the 3,200 and placed 10th overall. Last year as a junior, he finished fourth in state in the 3,200 and also ninth in the 1,600 to set the school record at 4:40.90. 

Neff mentioned he has come a long way in regard to confidence since he began his Mark Twain career.

“Let's just say Devin then was a little more scared of the competition and seeing the times,” he said. “Building through my high school career, I've gained confidence and it's made me the runner I am now.”

The charismatic senior is quick to point out those who have helped him achieve his success. He included his parents and sister Katie among a list of significant supporters.

He also thanked coach Erin Mack, who has guided him through training in cross county and track & field for the entirety of his Tigers career.

“Coach Mack has put in the time and effort to support me,” Neff said. “I wouldn't want to have run for anyone else. She's been there since the very beginning, and I'm just thankful for everything she does.” 

Neff competes in the 3,200 at 4 p.m. on Friday and the 1,600 at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at the state championships.

Regardless of outcomes, these will be the final races of his high school career.

“It's going to be a very special moment, including if I go out there and run the races I want to,” Neff said. “Whatever race I do run on Friday and Saturday, I know I gave it my 100 percent all and it's going to be a happy ending.”

And a new beginning.

Neff will join the cross country and track & field program at Hannibal-LaGrange University next school year.

“It's going to be very emotional for me because I've always been a Mark Twain Tiger,” he said. “But it's also something I'm looking forward to because it's the next chapter of my life.”