No one quits their senior year.
That's what 2011 Genoa graduate Brad Szypka, a former starting left guard on former coach Mike Vicars' playoff teams, was reminded of over and over again by friends and teammates.
Szypka decided to forgo his swan song season on the gridiron to hit the weight room as a legion of Comet fans were mulling over their then 6-foot-3, 230 pound first team All-Suburban Lakes League lineman's decision.
After all, Brad is the son of GHS track and football hall of famer Andy Szypka and the kid brother of Genoa and University of Toledo softball hurler Shana Szypka.
The truth is, Szypka wasn't quitting. Instead, he was beginning the next phase of his life. He was committing himself to becoming a Division II state track champion for Genoa back in the spring of 2011
He did just that, knocking off Waverly thrower Dylan Dyke with a shot put heave of 61 feet, 1¼ inches at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus. His work ethic led to him to NCAA D-I powerhouse, the University of Kentucky, to continue with his promising throwing career.
"Looking back, I definitely enjoyed the years I played high school football with all of my friends," meditates the 19-year-old Szypka.
He readily admits today that he waged something of a vexing war within himself before finally making the decision to step away from football.
“Taking that step away from it all turned out to probably be one of the best decisions I've ever made, because I don't think I'd be where I'm at today. I wouldn't be wearing Kentucky blue, so it definitely worked out for the better for me," Szypka said.
"During my sophomore year, I still wasn't even 100 percent sure I wanted to pursue track collegiately yet, but I did know I wanted to be good at it while I was in high school. And that's when I met and started working out with Coach Justin Carvalho, who also worked out with Eastwood's Justin Welch, who I've always been a big fan of," shares Szypka.
Carvalho, the former Bowling Green State University assistant women's track coach is now with the University of Findlay and has become a sought-after commodity among some of the area's top prep athletes in recent years.
"Then, during my junior track season at Genoa I just kind of fell in love with it. I just became addicted to the sport. And as that year went on, I kind of was able to see the strides I was making, and how I was getting looked at by colleges, and how I was receiving letters," remembers Szypka.
"That summer before my senior year rolled around, Coach Carvalho just kind of looked at me and said, 'You know what, do you want to play football, and I'll just see you in the winter? Or do you want to continue to hang with me, and do what we need to do to chase that D-I scholarship dream?'
“That's when I'd go home, and one minute I'd think to myself 'I'm going to play football,' and then the next it'd be 'No, I'm not going to play,' and I just kind of kept going back-and-forth on it. Until finally one day I just sat down, and told myself 'I'm not going to go anywhere playing football, so what's the next best thing?' That's when I called my coach and said, 'I'm going to meet with you every day.' My senior track season essentially began right then."
"You know, the whole decision was actually really difficult for me at first, and especially when that next fall's football season came around, because I'd always have to drive past the football field on my way to train in BG. I'd think to myself, 'Wow. All of my friends are out there on that field. Everyone I've ever played with, or known for 12 to 15 years, they're all out there. And I gave it all up'," he says.
"But I knew if I wanted to experience life beyond where I grew up, I'd have to take that step away from high school football, and try to win that D-I scholarship in track. Now, I've just experienced my freshman year in college, I have the honor of being a collegiate athlete for the University of Kentucky, and I'm traveling and seeing a little bit of the world. And those are some of the biggest reasons I wanted to go D-I somewhere in the first place. To be able to do my best, to become a better person, and to have the chance to really experience life."
Getting his feet wet
Szypka is one of four promising freshmen throwers on a young UK throwing team that is made up of two other Ohio products and an outstanding Canadian javelin thrower to go along with a smattering of sophomores.
In his first season with the Wildcats, Szypka distinguished himself from a number of other freshmen athletes across the Southeastern Conference by demonstrating the maturity to make another important decision — this time not to redshirt.
Szypka said, "I came to Kentucky to throw, not to sit. More than anything my first year, I wanted to go out there and get my feet wet."
Szypka thrived in the UK throwing team's preseason conditioning program. He said conditioning included endless squats, slogging up hills in weighted vests, and even pushing blocking sleds 10 yards and back, 20 yards and back, and so on.
In the classroom, the Genoa product got down to business, declaring himself a business major and bringing home a 3.0 GPA in his first year. His schedule saw him leave his dorm for class at 8 a.m., which would be followed by back-to-back, non-stop classes and mandatory tutors until noon; hustle to lifting and throwing from 3-8 p.m.; and then get in one more mandatory night tutor session before finally returning to his dorm around 10 p.m., all the while tackling 16 credit hours.
During the freshman indoor season with the Wildcats, Szypka did get on the scoreboard for Kentucky, earning a varsity letterman's jacket, despite battling through a couple of hand injuries. His top shot put throw of 53 feet fell below the former Comet's high expectations, although he was able to record throws of a considerable greater distance as he overcame his injury, all of which resulted in fouls.
He one of only two "true" freshmen in all of the Southeastern Conference in '12, and who still has three more years in Kentucky blue.
As he continued to be plagued with the pains of committing fouls, Szypka showed the maturity and poise to power through until he reached "flow status" (what the Wildcats call "being in the zone") by consistently heaving respectable 54-footers for much of the season. He turned the corner at something of a breakout meet in Louisville, where he launched a series of 57's.
At the conference's outdoor meet, where the top 48 performers move on to NCAA regionals, Szypka narrowly missed the cut, coming in at 50th.
He is enjoying rubbing elbows with a number of the top athletes in the nation, while working out in some of the D-I college landscape's sickest facilities.
"When we go on trips, we don't just go to throw, or run, or compete," allows Brad, "we also go to train. At LSU, we worked out right alongside their football team, which was awesome. Their complex is just phenomenal. Their football stadium is right next to their basketball arena, which is right next to their track, which is right next to their baseball field. It's like a small city."
“A lot of athletes gather up their miles after four or five years in college," he offers, "and then when they graduate, they go to Europe for free.
He enjoys getting back in Lexington, getting to be a part of the sea of blue at Commonwealth Stadium on football Saturdays, as well as a part of history and the cult of basketball dominance.
This summer, he was in Genoa catching up with his family and friends, relaxing on summer vacation, working out with Coach Carvalho and getting his mind right for his sophomore season.
"Down at UK, my family name doesn't really mean anything right now," says Szypka, "but around here, it's always going to be important for me to live up to that legacy left by my dad and sister. I mean, I want people to remember our family as more than just a bunch of people who only cared about being good at sports. I want people to remember us as a family who cared about doing well for the community.
"That's why I still now like to take the time to help a lot of the kids out at the school with their lifting," he continues, "because guys like Logan Bryer, who is one of my main training partners, and Michael Dieter, who I think has a great chance of playing college football…I like to take them aside and let them know what it takes to get to the next level. When I leave Genoa, I don't want people just saying 'He was a good track athlete.' I want them to remember me as a good coach to some, a positive mentor, and a good friend."