Nation Ford’s Mason Haynes approaches the finish line during the Trojan Invitational earlier this month. Haynes has emerged as a top runner in the state this year.

As champion runners such as Katie Pou and Sam Rich sprint towards their college careers, there is another runner topping the horizon that is now set to take up that mantle and move it forward.

Nation Ford High sophomore runner Mason Haynes is set to take up where Rich left off and lead the way for local male runners in Fort Mill Township. Haynes, 15, has seemingly come out of nowhere this season and has now twice broken the school record for the Falcons.

Haynes recently ran a 14:55 to break the school record for a second time this season at the Warrior Invitational in Pawleys Island earlier this month. He is currently the number one ranked sophomore in the country based on that time.

A Fort Mill native, Haynes has been competitively running since the summer going into his eighth-grade year at Pleasant Knoll Middle School. In those three years, his times have gradually dropped and this year, he has found a new gear as he is emerging from the pack.

Haynes said he likes running because there are no limits to how good a runner can become. He also likes the individual and team aspect of the sport.

“You can keep pushing yourself to get better every day,” he said. “There is also a team aspect where everyone on the team matters. That is how you are going to score points.”

Haynes said he never felt like he was going to be a top runner on his team, but after his eighth-grade year, things started to click for him.

“I did well in eighth grade track and that is when I really had a break out,” he said.

Putting up the times he has been hitting, Haynes already accomplished one goal of his by going sub-15 minutes in a 5k. He won the Warrior Invitational and the Trojan Invitational as well as an individual. Both wins are also part of the goals he has set for himself this year.

“My main goal is to try to stay with the front and win every race I am in,” he said. “I have a lot of big races coming up and I want to stay with the front group and win them.”

Haynes said he likes distance running because he feels better in endurance races. In track, he prefers the two-mile race because it is the longest competitive event in high school track in the state. For Haynes, it seems the longer the race, the better.

“I like to go out to do a long run with my team and take it slower, or do tempo runs to build endurance,” he said. “I feel like I can be more in control of the race with a longer distance.”

The next races that are really going to be key to prove Haynes is separating himself from the pack of state runners is the Woodmont Invitational Saturday and then the Coaches Classic in Newberry Oct. 8.

All these races including the York County Championships and the Region 3-5A championship leads to the one race everyone wants to win – the 5A state championship meet in November. The possibility of the Falcons taking an individual and state team title are favorable, Haynes believes.

“It is definitely a possibility,” he said. “Our team is real strong. Right now, we are one of the most competitive teams in the state. A team title would mean just as much to me as an individual title. Definitely going to try to go for both of those.”

With two years to go before college, Haynes said he is leaning towards running in college, but being as young as he is, he can’t be contacted yet by coaches or schools. However, between now and college, look for Haynes to leave his mark locally on the sport of running just as others from Fort Mill Township have done in the past.

Mac Banks:, @fortprep