HARRISONBURG — From his junior year to his senior year, Jacob Dunlap increased his shot-put distance about 3 feet, allowing him to set the Broadway High School outdoor record: 53 feet, 2¼ inches.
The 18-year-old, who intends to walk on at Division I East Tennessee State in the fall, said it wasn’t anything magical. It was a technique tweak and a bit of added buffness.
“Nothing lucky,” the 6-foot, 210-pound right-hander said. “I did lift a little bit last year, so I think part of it is getting stronger, but I think most of it is form because I don’t think I’m that much stronger.”
Whatever the reason, it earned him a spot in a national meet.
Dunlap threw 52 feet, 9¼ inches at the New Balance Nationals outdoor meet June 13-15 at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, placing fifth out of 28 athletes in his division (he wasn’t competing against the meet’s top throwers). The first-place heave was 57 feet, 7 inches.
“He did great,” said Blaze Ennis, a former Bridgewater College shot-putter who helps out at BHS and went to Greensboro with Dunlap. “He didn’t succumb under the pressure or anything like that, so I’m happy with how he did.”
Dunlap competed in the second of two divisions — dubbed the Emerging Elite — for which he qualified by throwing more than 50 feet.
To make the Championship Division, a shot-putter had to throw better than 55 feet, 1 inch, and the thrower who won that 32-man event — Braheme Days with a toss of 68 feet, 6¼ inches — is going to UCLA and won a bronze medal at the 2011 World Youth Championships in France.
The Virginia boys’ state record for the shot put is 60 feet, 8 inches, set by R.E. Lee’s Steve Kluge in 1977. The national high school record is 81 feet, 3½ inches, set in Texas in 1979 by Michael Carter.
Last week’s meet — which has been held annually for more than 20 years and is organized by the National Scholastics Athletics Foundation — was sanctioned by USA Track and Field, the sport’s governing body in the United States.
“It was really neat,” Dunlap said of going to the meet. “There were a lot of throwers from all across the country. … It was just a neat experience to compete with people — you’re used to competing with Virginia kids at all the meets you go to in high school, and this meet, these are kids you’re not used to seeing.”
Joe Lanzalotto, who has worked with the non-profit NSAF for almost a decade, said countless future Olympians have competed in the national meet, the United States’ only national championship meet for high school-age athletes.
Lanzalotto said about 4,200 people competed this year — the most ever for the event by about 800. Lanzalotto attributed the increase to shifting the meet from Thursday, Friday, Saturday to Friday, Saturday, Sunday and increasing the number of events offered for freshmen. Originally, freshmen had only the mile. Now, freshmen have the 100 meters, 400, long jump and two-mile.
Athletes qualify for the meet by reaching minimum standards in their events and submitting an application.
Dunlap worked his way there.
Also an All-Valley District linebacker for Broadway’s football team, he achieved Iron Gobbler status — the sum weight of his bench, hang clean, push jerk and squat is 1,000 pounds or more. He also polished his throwing mechanics, staying low through the whole toss and keeping his shoulders even, helping him harness and increase his natural “explosion.”
“He’s got some natural ability, but then he’s done a lot of stuff in the weight room to help make that explosion better — kind of refine those skills,” said Becky Harris, a BHS track coach who works with the throwers.
Dunlap won the Valley District this year with his BHS-record throw. He finished second at the Region III meet with a 50-foot, 11-inch toss.
At the Group AA state meet, Dunlap took third with a throw of 52 feet, 11½ inches. Marion’s Anthony Bowling won states with a 56-10½.
“He’s a strong kid,” Ennis said of Dunlap. “He has great technique, but he works extremely hard at getting better at what he does. He doesn’t settle with being good. He wants to get better always. He always wants to get better.”