A lot of introspection came into play before Brad Szypka won the Division II state shot put title last weekend in Columbus.
Szypka was a starting left guard and backup defensive end for coach Mike Vicars' Genoa football team during his junior year in 2010. Szypka, however, wanted something else. He wanted to be the one on the top step of the awards podium at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, with the first-place shot put medal being placed around his neck.
Some of his Szypka's friends thought he was crazy to give up his senior year of football to concentrate on throwing the shot and discus for the Comets' track team, but that's just what he did. Szypka said he never told Vicars of his desire to give up football.
“I just never went out,” he said. “He and I had a couple talks in the office, but I never called him or anything and said I wasn't going to play. My buddies wanted me to come out. Everyone was telling me it's my senior year and I had to play. A lot of them were saying it was a waste of time to focus on track all the time. I told them it's my choice.”
Last Friday, Szypka's dream came to fruition when he won the state title with a throw of 61-01.25. He said he has no regrets.
“I'm pretty happy with myself and how everything happened,” Szypka said. “I'm going to keep training and get better for the next level. I've wanted a state title ever since I was a freshman.”
Todd Witt's second season as Genoa's boys track coach was Szypka's freshman year. Witt has seen Szypka's determination and maturation up close.
“What is most impressive about Brad besides his physical strength is his mental toughness from his freshman year to his senior year,” Witt said. “He grew up emotionally and mentally. For him to give up football, all the glory and all the fun and the accolades of playing high school football, is pretty big. He had a goal and his goal was to be a state champion. It surprised me he gave up football, but he rewarded himself and the school with a state title.”
Excelling in athletics runs in the Szypka family. Brad's father, Andy, was a star tailback at Genoa in the 1970s and is a member of the school's athletic hall of fame. Brad's sister, Shana, was a first-team All-Ohio pitcher for the Comets who recently finished her softball career at the University of Toledo.
“Some people say they're going to go to the weight room and they just walk around,” Witt said. “Brad works. His transformation from his freshman year to being a state champ is remarkable. Freshman year he struggled and got frustrated at times. Eastwood has a freshman jayvee meet, and in warmups he fell out of the circle and injured his knee and he couldn't complete the rest of the meet. To go from that to being a state champ is remarkable.”
At the state meet, Szypka was confused about who was in first place prior to his final throw. He said he thought he was tied with another thrower, Waverly sophomore Dylan Dyke, but Szypka was actually in first place by three-quarters of an inch.
With the state title still in doubt in his mind, Szypka reared back and got off his longest throw of the day – 61-01.25 – to erase any doubt.
“I had already won, but I didn't know that,” Szypka said. “I was thinking if I threw something farther than 59 feet I could win it. I would have tried to break the state record. I was only four inches off for our division. I went in thinking I have to get something out there to make sure I won. Either way I would have thought 'last throw, best throw.' ”
Genoa's last state placer in the shot put was Marcus Vicars in 2009. Vicars took fourth with a throw of 58-11.50.
“Brad was absolutely clutch,” Witt said. “He composed himself and threw over 61 (feet), which is obviously a terrific throw. Kentucky's getting a dandy. It's just the tip of the iceberg for him.”
Szypka, who will throw for the University of Kentucky next season, said standing on the podium was like a dream come true.
“Not to sound cocky, but it felt like I deserved it,” he said. “Standing up there, I was thinking this is where I really belong. It was one of those one-time feelings like, yes! It was a goal and to finally reach that was great.”