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Ram throws himself into elite category

Hard work has turned into some of the best throws in the country for Tampa Baptist's Garrett Johnson.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001


TAMPA -- Nate Johnson remembers the day last summer when his son, Garrett, made the decision to become an elite thrower.

Garrett had just competed at the Amateur Athletic Union National Junior Olympics, something of a litmus test for top athletes and a scouting combine for college coaches.

He had finished third in the discus and worse in the shot put. He knew he was capable of more.

"He came up to me after the competition and said, 'I'm ready to be one of the best throwers in the country,"' Nate Johnson said. "Ever since then, he has worked toward getting there. Ever since then, he has made his dream come true."

Eight months after the meet, Garrett Johnson ranks as one of the top throwers in the nation.

The Tampa Baptist junior owns Florida's second-longest throw in the shot put (60 feet, 7 inches) this season, trailing only Neptune Beach Fletcher's Steve Arflin (61-9). His discus throw of 174-0 is second to Port St. Joe's Travis Woullard (179-2).

No Hillsborough County thrower has come within 10 feet of Johnson in the shot put or 14 feet in the discus.

According to dyestat.com, the top throws in the nation are 66-31/2 in the shot put and 218-2 in the discus. Johnson's best would put him in the top 10 in both categories.

"The biggest distinction is his commitment," Nate Johnson said. "He has an internal drive to be the best."

Garrett Johnson prepared for the season by giving up basketball to work out in the weight room four days a week. He added 25 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame, bringing him to 250.

After reviewing hours of tape with his father to improve his footwork, Johnson entered the season with one goal: to throw 60 feet in the shot put.

"It's like the impenetrable wall," he said. "It's tough to get there. But once you get there, you're going to the next pinnacle. You're stepping over that wall. If you're throwing 56, 57, you're a great thrower. But to be an elite thrower, you have to be throwing 60 feet consistently."

Johnson reached his goal on his first throw at the Jack Rice Invitational Feb. 23 at East Bay. "The first event I did that night was the discus," he said. "I was excited, just natural adrenaline, and threw a (personal best), which was 174. I guess that excitement carried over into the shot put."

Normally, meet officials measure throws after each attempt. But at the East Bay meet, they waited until each thrower had finished, prolonging the suspense.

"When they read off what it was, I just screamed because I was so excited," Johnson said. "It was a big leap from being consistently a high 50-feet thrower to finally reaching that goal of 60 feet."

Throwing courses through Johnson's veins. His parents started the Christian Cruisers youth track club. His older sister, Sanatera, won two state shot put titles and one discus championship in the mid-90s.

His older brother, Marqus, is a two-time state champion in the discus. Now a freshman at Florida State, Marqus ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Woullard ended Marqus' two-year state championship run last season. But Garrett, who placed third in the discus and will compete against Woullard at next month's state meet, exacted some revenge recently at the Florida Relays.

"It made me feel good to be able to say that the guy that beat my brother, I was able to come back the following year and beat him," Johnson said.

* * *

Introducing: Garrett Johnson

AGE: 16.

ACADEMICS: Carries a 3.6 unweighted grade point average, 4.4 weighted.

ACTIVITIES: Track, junior class president.

INTERESTS: Cooking.

FAVORITE FOOD: Mexican.

FAVORITE CLASS: History ("I just enjoy historical facts and stories.")

FAVORITE BOOK: The Bible.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: Survivor.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Contemporary gospel (John P. Key).

FUTURE: Interested in studying history, political science and pre-law.

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