COLUMBIA — This Saturday, the Missouri track and field team's distance-running poster child, Max Storms, will set off on his final 5,000-meter run as a Tiger.
An obsessive runner, who Missouri distance coach Joe Lynn describes as the "catalyst" of the program, will silently exit from the scene as the indoor track season concludes.
The Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas, will be the end of Storms' five-year Missouri career, barring his unlikely qualification for nationals in the 3,000 or 5,000 meters.
Storms was redshirted only for indoor competitions during his freshman year, but has stayed uninjured since. He returned to the program this year to compete indoors over the past few months.
"I thought while I was here, I might as well use it (the eligibility)," Storms said. "I wasn’t ready to have it end last spring."
Of the main running seasons – cross country, indoor track and outdoor track – Storms is ending his storied Missouri career in a season that generates the least amount of buzz.
Five years ago in Mexico, Mo., Hayden Legg made a mistake.
He logged onto mohsrunning.com (a high school running web site) and predicted Jason Barry would win the Class 2 Boys Championship in Missouri cross country.
That prediction upset Storms, then a senior at Archbishop O’Hara High School in Kansas City. Legg and his brother would "talk a big game" on the message boards, and Storms thought Legg’s talent couldn’t back up his mouth.
"He tells me that he hated me just because I predicted someone else to win state," Legg said.
After their high school careers ended, both Storms and Legg were given a chance to run for the Missouri Tigers. Storms didn’t feel like Legg deserved the opportunity.
"I kind of felt like he was talentless and wouldn’t fit in here at Mizzou, but he came in and proved me wrong," Storms said.
Neither of the two runners was highly recruited, and that fact has driven Storms.
"We weren’t necessarily the most wanted recruiting class," Storms said. "We had to prove that we belonged at this level. I’ve kind of always felt that."
In 2012, Storms set the school record in the 10,000 meters (outdoor track) and placed 56th in the NCAA National Championships, the best finish for any Missouri runner in 40 years.
Despite his success, Storms has not lost his desire for personal and team improvement.
"I like to keep people accountable," Storms said. "If the younger athletes are doing something that I don’t think they should be doing, I’ll call them out every time. I’m not shy about it.
"I’m the fifth-year senior who knows what he’s doing. They need to take a backseat for a while. I feel like they should listen."
The easiest way to get on Storms’ bad side is to push the pace in practice past what the workout is designed for.
Missouri distance coach Joe Lynn said Storms knows a tremendous amount about training and that he’ll ask for Storms’ advice on workout schedules. He also said that he loves Storms' commitment to the Tigers.
"He lives and dies with our program," Lynn said. "He bleeds MU cross country and track."
Storms' commitment to success is not confined to the sport he so desperately loves.
In 2012, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named Storms an All-Academic performer, and in December, Storms graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in civil engineering.
He is currently working on a master’s degree.
"I get a certain satisfaction out of being a student athlete, but if I had to be honest, the athlete part comes first," Storms said. "If I get a 'B' in a class, it’s not the worst thing.
"I would much rather take a 'B' than feel like I’m underprepared in training."
Storms has a job to do that takes precedence over his schooling, and it irks him when his classmates complain about their own lack of time.
"Unlike a full-time job, I’m physically tired at the end of the week," Storms said. "I don’t like it when I’m in class and I hear people complain."
Storms’ accomplishments and irritations inside and outside of the classroom are a testament to the fire that burns within him.
Lynn stressed Storms’ incredible work ethic. He doesn’t have to worry about Storms training hard or pushing himself. It would be against his nature to do otherwise.
"(The other runners) see what Max is doing, and they know what is expected of them," Lynn said.
It takes some kind of fire inside to run 10,000 meters in under 30 minutes, like Storms can. This is the same fire that instilled hate over a message board post, and it is what makes Storms who he is as a competitor.
"He’s a really confident runner. He says, ‘I’m going to beat this guy today,’ and he goes out on his tail," Legg said. "That bites him in the butt sometimes."
On Feb. 14, in Storms’ most recent race, he took off fast in a 5,000-meter run. He ended up fading badly and finishing dead last in his heat, 25 seconds off of his personal record.
"But I can’t help it," Storms said. "I like to put myself up there. Even when I’m not specifically taking the lead I want to be in the front pack. Then I feel like I’m in a race, not just running."
Storms' running style sharply contrasts with Legg’s, who sets his own pace and likes to pass runners throughout the race.
While Legg does not match Storms’ early pace, he does match him in one important area, according to Storms.
"His work ethic is unbelievable," Storms said. "We put in more miles, get more stuff done than anyone on the team."
Although Legg loves to give Storms a hard time for his obsessive attitude, he says that Storms isn’t actually mean-spirited.
Over their five years together in the program, the two have become close. They even plan to live and train together next year.
"He didn’t like me until he came here and realized what a great guy I was," Legg said, laughing.
Starting in the summer, both will be training for road races, a usual step for distance runners after college.
In November, Storms qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials marathon by running the Monumental Half Marathon in Indianapolis in 64 minutes, 28 seconds.
The trials will be held on Feb. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles.
The road to Los Angeles starts Saturday, after he hangs up the black and gold for the last time at Texas A&M.
He says the team won’t miss him too much. He’s not like a point guard who needs to pass them the ball.
After all of his dedication, hard work and leadership, however, it’s hard to imagine that Storms will not be missed.