Unassuming by nature, Minneapolis Washburn senior Aidan Jones comes alive as a Millers football and soccer superfan complete with face paint.
"I go all out," Jones said.
He once approached cross-country races the same way. Fast starts kept resulting in disappointing finishes, though, until better race distribution became a focus. Jones matured into one of the state's top runners. His rise culminated in the besting of a deep and talented field at the Class 3A state meet championship in November.
Jones is the Star Tribune Metro Boys Cross-Country Runner of the Year.
Jones and Minneapolis Southwest junior standout Sam Scott traded great finishes throughout the fall. On Oct. 12, Jones edged Scott for the Minneapolis City Conference title. Then Scott flipped the script at the Section 6 championships.
Jones retained his confidence as he prepared for the state meet.
"I figured coming into the race that we were going to go 1 and 2," Jones said. "So I just wanted to make sure that I was in the No. 1 spot.
"I go into every race thinking I'm going to win. Coming in with a good mind-set just really helps."
About a mile into the 3.1-mile race at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Jones ran with the lead pack of Scott, defending state champion Nick Gilles of Minnetonka and Armstrong's Noah Breker, who started this season ranked No. 1.
Earlier in his high school career, Jones would have begun fading from sight.
"I was running about the same first mile that I'm running now," Jones said. "The only difference is that I couldn't hold that pace. That was just way too fast for what I should have been doing. I learned to really focus on the last mile and closing hard."
Jones finished in 15 minutes, 11.8 seconds, just ahead of Scott (15:15.3). He became the first male individual champion from a Minneapolis public school since Hassan Mead from South in 2006.
Jones, who like Mead will run for the Gophers in college, has made superfans out of family members.
"My grandparents always introduce me to other people as the state champion," Jones said. "Sometimes a little embarrassing."