While the sly smile and calm demeanor of Libertyville senior Mattsen Dziedzic gives the impression of an easy-going, relaxed type of guy, even he was getting a bit tired of the routine and the punishment.
Throughout each practice during his junior season for the Wildcats track team, Dziedzic and the other throwers did their shot put routines under the watchful eye of throws coach Parker Rohde. Every time their technique failed, and in Dziedzic's case it failed more than he wanted to, the penalty was 10 push-ups.
Needless to say, Dziedzic did a lot of them.
"About 3,400 or so," he said with his usual grin. "I remember one time we were outside and it was kind of raining and I did it wrong. I looked down and it was muddy and wet and I was like, 'No way, coach -- not today.' "
Eventually the push-ups became less frequent, and the shot put started to sail farther.
"I think you could start to see with each practice he was fighting the routine and the technique," Rohde said. "He is a big strong kid, and all he wanted to do was muscle the shot out there. He came along and started to realize there was more to it."
Dziedzic is every bit the "big strong kid" that Rohde mentioned. He stands 6 feet, 5 inches, and since football has ended, he has added another 15 pounds of muscle to his imposing 265-pound frame. The workout warrior during football is now a common fixture in the Libertyville weight room. It's not uncommon to see Dziedzic put up 365 pounds on the bench press.
"Football started out for me as my priority sport and coach Rohde got me to come in and lift and suggested I could throw, too," Dziedzic said. "I had a lot of friends that were doing the shot put thing and the track thing, so I decided to do it too."
The progression to the top was a slow grind at first for Dziedzic. He cleared the hurdle of throwing the shot put 50 feet early in the 2012 season, but it wasn't until a late-season meet at Prospect that the light really started to shine brightly.
On his final throw in the shot put event, Dziedzic tossed the shot 56 feet, 4 inches, announcing his presence on the grand stage of the elite throwers in the state.
"I don't think it was a surprise for any of us," said Libertyville coach Jason Schroeder. "We all knew the hard work he had put in and you could see it finally starting to pay off."
The climb to the top was steady and consistent from that point forward for Dziedzic. Each week he threw a little farther -- until hitting a small bump in the road at the Fremd sectional meet, with state qualifying at stake.
"I remember that night that he was struggling a little early on," Rohde said. "I don't think it was nerves so much as it was he needed to stay consistent with his technique. He got his one throw in but we knew we had some work to do."
The state qualifying mark was easily surpassed, which then gave Dziedzic and Rohde a week to get the kinks worked out before the state meet.
"It was great because Rohde and I had a whole week to work together on technique and form and all the things I needed to get better," Dziedzic said. "We painted extra lines on the shot put ring and I started to see just how far I could really throw it."
Brimming with confidence, Dziedzic attacked the shot put event at the state meet. He did just enough to get into the finals with a 56-4 effort. Once into the finals, Dziedzic looked more relaxed, and the results bore that out.
Each throw in the finals was better than the first but none was better than his last one. On the final throw of the competition, Dziedzic launched the shot farther than he ever had before. While it didn't catch eventual state champion Josh Freeman of Cary-Grove, the 59-1.5 throw established a personal best and gave a great indicator of a bright future for Dziedzic and the Wildcats.
"That was definitely something we all became excited about right away," Schroeder said. "Knowing how hard he works and how well he and coach Rohde work together made us all excited about the coming year."
Dziedzic still had a passion for football and claimed that to be his first sport. But that changed towards the end of the Wildcats football season last fall. On a routine drill in practice, Dziedzic was hit awkwardly and fell to the ground, suffering a concussion. An ensuing trip to the hospital and failure to remember much of anything about the play, the events surrounding it or the moments after gave Dziedzic great pause.
"It was hard to go through that whole situation," Dziedzic said. "When I went to the doctor and he told me I was essentially done (with football) it was hard."
As Dziedzic moved away from football and started to focus on the track season, his future also became clearer. Instead of hoping to continue his football career, he gave up his first love for his new love, which he will continue to pursue at Illinois for the next four years.
"That was an easy choice," Dziedzic said of his college choice. "It's a good school, close to home and I like the coaches."
Since the college selection process is out of the way, Dziedzic can now focus on the outdoor season. He is the top returning thrower in the state and recently finished in the top five during the indoor season.
"I think he has big goals for this season and you can see how hard he is working in practice," Rohde said. "He believes he can go 67, 68 even 70 feet and he is working hard to get there."
All the potential for a future state record -- minus the push-ups.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.