NAIA All-American Kevin Jeffers is eying a National Championship before his college distance running career ends.




The Southern Oregon University senior placed sixth in the steeplechase a year ago and currently owns the fourth fastest time in the NAIA in 2008.




The steeplechase, a 3,000-meter run through three-foot-high barriers and a three-foot-deep pool, is a brutal test of body and mind. Jeffers, 23, savors the opportunity to run his opponents into submission.




"I'm sort of a bull runner," Jeffers says. "I like to hammer a little bit. I'd rather go out and try to run with the big boys than be conservative. I wanna go out and try. If I die, I die. But it's a risk I'm willing to take I guess. Some people don't think that's the way to go, but it's worked for me so I'm gonna keep going with it."




Jeffers led the steeplechase final with a lap to go in 2007. It was in the final 400 meters that the race got away from the 6-foot-2 distance runner. He has no plans of changing his strategy this time around, but feels he is better equipped to finish the job May 22-24 in St. Louis, Mo.




"This time I'm a little stronger," he says. "With a lap to go when they're rolling me up, I'm gonna turn the table and try to run away from them. That's pretty much my strategy to win it. That's I guess the way I am."




He has been developing that strategy since his freshman year at McKay High School in Salem. He originally joined the track team to spend time with one of his two older brothers, Eric. He began to improve and before long, running was his life.




"When I first started it wasn't as tense," he says. "It was purely for me just having fun. That was fun, but then you start to do it more; you start to get more competitive and competitive. When I started running faster times it was just kind of driving me forward to achieve faster and faster times. That's what kind of hooked me."




After four years of vast improvement in high school, Jeffers, a health education major, moved to Colorado to run for NCAA Division II track and field powerhouse Adams State. After a year, Jeffers and wife-to-be Alicia (an NCAA All-American runner) decided Adams was too small and they transferred to Auburn University.




"Fun school. Big (Division I) school," he says. "It wasn't a runner's world down there. It was kind of a sprinting place."




After a year running unattached at Auburn, the couple again decided to move on. Due to transfer technicalities, they were not allowed to run for another big school and SOU became their new home.




"I wanted to get closer (to home)," he says. "I wanted to get back to Oregon. There's no place like Oregon."




Along with the steeplechase, Jeffers has also qualified for nationals in the 5,000 meters and has provisionally qualified for the 1,500, the shortest race he runs.




With so much time during each race, the mind has time to think. Jeffers says he is always thinking about the same thing.




"Pain. You think of all the pain and aches in your body," he says. "It's inevitable. You can't block the pain, really. A lot of people say they can but you can only kind of deal with it and kind of work through it."




Jeffers says that he has become a more vocal leader as he helps guide a young team this season. He is glad he decided to spend his last two collegiate seasons at SOU and has no regrets.




"I'm happy to finish my career with the group of guys we've got here," he said. "They're making me better and hopefully I'm making them better."




Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.