Taconic Hills’ Neil Howard III has been playing sports for as long as he can remember.
“I was always an active kid. Whether it was just jumping on the trampoline or running away from my older sisters, I was always moving. I had to be doing something,” he said. “As soon as I got old enough to join any sort of sports club, I was there. I would never get bored, sometimes I’d go from one sport to another on the same day.”
When he was younger, his parents encouraged him to play as many sports as possible, so he said he never “specialized in anything” when he was first starting out. He played soccer and basketball, and loved those sports just as much as he loved running.
Over time, he was drawn more to track and field. “All of the different aspects of it – the running, jumping, and throwing – just had me hooked,” he said. “Track seemed to be the ultimate test of pushing boundaries and I continued to fall more in love with it.”
High school athletic career
Neil currently plays three varsity sports for Taconic Hills: golf, swimming, and track and field, both indoor and outdoor.
Training isn’t easy. Neil said he “incorporates a wide range of exercises” that he’s learned in order to work all of the different muscles.
“Primarily in the fall, I try to do a lot of strength training and plyometrics. Then moving into the winter, I start doing a lot more cardio through swimming. This is still the time of year when I try to work on technical things with track and field like pole vaulting and hurdling. By the time the spring comes along, I’m ready to jump fully into running to improve my speed endurance,” he explained.
Neil is also a decathlete, or an athlete who takes part in a decathlon consisting of ten different track and field events.
He won five championships at state this spring, including titles in the 110-meter hurdles, 400 hurdles, and the pole vault. Due to his dizzying success in these events, he was also named the Times Union’s Athlete of the Year.
Following his performance at states, he took on the Nike National Championships in Oregon and was the champion in the decathlon.
When asked about how it feels to know that he’s set so many new records in different events, Neil said: “The short answer is that it feels incredible.”
“Records mean more than just a name on a board. They mean that you’re leaving behind an imprint of what you have accomplished and how hard you pushed for the future runners to see. It’s amazing to see younger kids walking through the halls looking at the track and field record board and seeing my name because I know that one day, they will be trying and pushing their own limits to try to beat the records that I set.”
Neil doesn’t take his community’s support lightly.
“Taconic Hills isn’t known for being a big place, so I always kind of knew everyone. Then as I started to get better, go to bigger meets, and meet new people, it was still the people that I grew up with that were my biggest supporters in the stands cheering me on,” he said. “They have supported me and kept me grounded as I have progressed, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that support.”
Neil was also selected to be among 40 high school track athletes to be included in the Nike Elite Program, which offers comprehensive support for the top U.S. high school track and field athletes.
“They provide support, gear, and mentorship from the running powerhouse,” he said. “They flew me out to the headquarters and will send me to some of the elite meets next spring. This has been an incredible opportunity.”
Neil committed to the University of Michigan on a track and field scholarship this year.
“The University of Michigan was one of the first schools to really communicate with me, and so I always kept them in high regard. The connections I made with the coaches and how I felt at home while interacting with the rest of the team during my official visit made a very strong impression on me. It feels amazing to finally be able to say, ‘GO BLUE!’”
Going forward, Neil hopes to continue to improve his athletic performance.
“Any athlete that loves their sport dreams of one day taking it to the professional level, and maybe one day, making the Olympics. I hope to fulfill that dream one day.”