ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The day Edwardsville High School junior, A.J. Epenesa recorded the best discus throw in the nation this year, wasn’t his best morning.
“I woke up and I actually didn’t feel very good,” Epenesa says. “I woke up and I was like ‘Man I got a meet today I don’t fee good.’ Like I actually felt pretty sluggish.”
His first attempt goes wide left, but both he and throwing coach Matt Martin say the miscue, actually helped his next throw of 206 feet, 5 inches.
“My best throws come after something negative happens,” Epenesa says. “And so I’m more relaxed and just trying to hit my spots and just trying to get perfect technique.”
Martin says the mechanics of Epensea’s throws might be the worst part of his game. But he more than makes up for it.
“For this size he’s very athletic,” “There are guys who are maybe as big or bigger, but they dont’ quite have the athleticism he has. And he knows that, that’s why he works so hard becasue he knows he has been given a gift.”
His gift isn’t just use for throwing. It has also taken Epensea to a top-60 high school football recruit in the country and a scholarship to the University of Iowa. He expects to both throw, and play football as a Hawkeye.
“I’ve only thrown for about three years,” Epenesa says. “And any time before that I’ve never even thought about throwing.”
And Epensea’s is proving one of Martin’s strong beliefs as a high school coach.
“I believe in multi-sport athletes,” Martin says. “I always say I don’t really have to do plyometrics with A.J. because basket is a plyometric as you get. That is explosion.”
“I feel like i had a significantly better basketball season this year than I did last year because I started to get good with track,” Epenesa says. “Footwork in the ring is a lot like playing in the post.”
Martin, who is also the head football coach at Edwardsville, needed only one season of coaching Epenesa in in the fall to see a new opportunity for the freshman in the spring, with the track and field team.
“My freshman year he’s like ‘Do you realize I could make you a state champion thrower’,” Epenesa says. “I was like ‘O.K. yeah, whatever dude.”
“I said ‘A.J. in football I hope we win state championship, that’s what we are working towards. I hope you win state in basketball that’s what your teammates and coaches are working towards,” Martin says. “But in both those sports you are going to have to hope other people do their part. You come throw for me, and you’ll have a green sign on (Route) 157 and 159 with your name on it someday.’”
Green signs along Route 157 in Edwardsville recognize every team and individual state champion from the school. At the state meet last year, Epenesa finished second and ninth place in the discus and shot put, respectively. This summer, he expects a brand new sign with his name on it.
“We’re trying to get a first place finish this year,” Epenesa says. “I’m trying not to settle for anything less than first place.”
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