Aaron Leverson was always a good athlete.

As a junior at Janesville Craig, he could average about 5:30 or so per mile in a five-kilometer cross country race, and he scored seven points a game on the basketball court.

But Leverson still didn’t understand just how good he could be.

“I didn’t really realize my potential,” Leverson said Wednesday at a Big Eight Conference track and field meet at Monterey Stadium. “But I’ve had a lot of coaches talk to me and tell me that I could be good. So I embraced grinding more to try and get better.”

One of the coaches who has pushed Leverson the most is Brandon Miles, Craig’s boys cross country coach and an assistant track coach who works with distance runners.

Miles said Leverson originally thought he would originally be a sprinter, but the coaches quickly helped him realize he could be good at longer distances.

And about this time a year ago, Leverson—who went to the WIAA state meet as part of a relay team as a sophomore—began to realize just how good he could be. He won the 800 meters at regional and sectional meets to get to state individually.

“When I won the sectional meet, I got a lot more confident about how good I was,” Leverson said.

The success made the daily grind of practice and offseason work much more palatable.

And that work is paying off for Leverson in the form of a senior year to remember.

“He’s so much stronger this year, and definitely more developed and mature,” Miles said. “That’s not to say he wasn’t last year, but he’s at this new, elite level.

“He was always really good, but now it’s different. He’s 100 percent coachable. He’s willing to do anything and everything we ask. ... It’s been awesome.”

Leverson qualified for the WIAA state cross country meet in the fall while participating in a sport he calls his “lowest priority.”

In basketball, Leverson became the Cougars’ go-to point guard. He was named second-team all-Big Eight, scoring 15 points per game for a team that finished 11-12 but pulled off one tournament upset.

“It’s just been a really fun year,” Leverson said. “State cross country ... then basketball maybe didn’t work out as much as we wanted it to, but we made a lot of improvements by the end of the year.”

And the best may be yet to come.

Leverson has aspirations to contend for a state title in the 800. He entered Friday with the top Division 1 time in the state, a 1:55.97 he ran at a prestigious event in Palatine, Illinois, last month.

“The tough thing is they don’t realize how good they can be and how they can develop,” Miles said. “You really have to show them, if you keep working with us for two hours and put up with the countless hours and countless number of runs, there’s a chance that you can be at this great level.

“It’s something kids have to believe in before it really happens, and last year I don’t think he quite had that belief.”

Along with adding that self-confidence, Leverson said he finally fully embraced the work and training needed to be a state title contender.

“He told his parents, ‘I’m really starting to enjoy the grind—the 6 a.m. swims and the long runs and repeat workouts,’” Miles said. “When they told me that, I’m like, this is officially a different kid.”

Leverson said he is 95 percent sure he will attend UW-La Crosse, which he has grown to love after his trips to the state track meet.

He hopes to create at least one more memory on the Eagles’ track before he enrolls.