Austin Boetje picked up a knack for running as a soccer player. But it wasn't because he was chasing the soccer ball.
The Mill Creek cross country runner would often get in trouble for fooling around in practice, which led to him running laps afterward.
That prompted Boetje to give up soccer after his freshman year to focus on cross country. After all, if he was going to be doing all that running, he might as well do it for fun.
"I went out there and I didn't really know what it was," Boetje said of his first cross country experience. "I ended up being pretty good at it from running in soccer. I was always goofing off, so I had to do laps. I already had the endurance built up."
Boetje has matured over the last few years and its' not only with his behavior. The senior has blossomed into of the state's top runners. He'll get to see where he stacks up in Saturday's state championship in Carrollton.
"I just think about winning state," Boetje said.
A state title is not an unrealistic goal. Boetje has finished in the top 10 of every meet this season. He'll have to contend with Parkview's Alec Klassen and Peachtree Ridge's Josh Brickell, but Boetje has shown he can run with the state's best.
"You get in a race and you see it in his eyes that he's not going to go down without a fight," Mill Creek coach Andy Christie said. "That if somebody is going to beat him, then he is really going to make them hurt."
Boetje was on pace to run 800 miles in training this summer before he pulled his gluteus. He didn't fully recover until September and it was just in time.
Boetje won the Cavalier Classic, a regional race in South Carolina, and has steadily improved. He posted a personal record of 15 minutes, 37 seconds at the Alexander Invitational and solidified himself as a state contender with a third-place finish at the Coach Wood Invitational.
"I think that's where he showed people 'Hey, maybe this is a guy to contend with late in the season,'" Mill Creek coach Andy Christie said. "The last few weeks we feel like we finally got him where we want him to be and feel good about the state meet."
Boetje earned a spot on the varsity as a freshman and placed 70th. Mill Creek didn't qualify for state in 2008. When Boetje took 15th last year, that's when the light went off that he could be among the state's elite.
"After I got 15th at state last year, I realized I could do it," Boetje said.
Boetje holds the school record in cross country (15:37.61) and the Mill Creek's top times in the 1,600 (4:26.35) and 3,200 (9:36.32) in track and field. Colin Conroy has the school's top finish at the state meet with a sixth-place finish in 2007 when Boetje was a freshman.
"I never thought I would get in the 15s," Boetje said. "I remember the seniors doing it, but I never imagined I could."
Now Boetje is the top dog on the cross country team. He's come a long way since running laps after soccer practice. But maybe it was just the thing he needed to jump start his cross country career.
"He's pretty tenacious in terms of you almost have to hold him back," Christie said. "He just wants to run and run fast. He's become a lot more disciplined with pacing and strategy and doing the right thing. He just loves to get out there and run."