Oct. 10, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Josh Awotunde doesn’t look much like a former high school quarterback, and college football players on the defensive side of the ball are probably glad the now 6’2”, 275-pound, two-time first-team All-American in the shot put chose to compete in track and field for South Carolina. After finishing fifth at the NCAA Indoor Championships last year, Awotunde has been hard at work to give himself a chance to stand at the top of the podium next spring.
“I want to win the national title, indoor and outdoor,” Awotunde said. “I want to win SECs in indoor and outdoor, too. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it happen. I just like to get better every year. I feel like this year I am going to be the best, technically, that I’ve been in my career here.”
His career has taken off in the last two years. In 2016, he took second team All-SEC honors after winning silver at the SEC Indoor Championships with a then personal best 62’-3 ¼”, which ranked third in school history and was the best mark by any Gamecock since 1998. Later that spring, he earned first team All-American honors after finishing seventh at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships with a new personal best 63’-9”, ranking second in school history.
Last spring, Awotunde won the shot put at the Clemson Invitational to open the indoor season and took second at the next three events. He continued to put his name all over the South Carolina record books by throwing a new indoor career best 64’-6,” at NCAAs, which is now the second-best mark in program history and also garnered first team All-American honors. In the outdoor season, he took first place in the shot put at the Gamecock Invitational as well as the prestigious Penn Relays, which included a new personal best 65’-6”. After earning silver again at the SEC Championships in the shot put to take second team All-SEC honors, he later qualified again for the NCAA Championships. This year he wants to throw it 69 feet.
His continued growth in the event comes from his ability to feed off of other teammates and build confidence.
“I started getting more comfortable around my teammates,” Awotunde said. “I started feeding off our old captains, such as Dondre Echols and Clayton Gravesande. They really set the bar high. They gave me confidence because those guys had so much confidence in themselves. Dondre told me that you just have to believe in yourself and know that you can do it. There are other teammates who motivate me in practice, too.”
Awotunde also credits South Carolina assistant coach Mike Sergent in developing his abilities.
“He has been unbelievable,” Awotunde said. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. The way he treats his athletes is great. He has great insight and great experience. I try to get his input on what I should try to change and what I should do differently. He’s really understanding.
“Preparation is a big thing. In throws, there is a huge emphasis on the weight room, so you live in there in the offseason. My favorite part is definitely the day of competition. You prep so much, you try to eat right, and you try to get the right amount of sleep. Some days you wake up and you just know. It’s just right. It’s all about the little things.”
To be on the stand with the gold medal at NCAAs would be an unreal feeling.
Awotunde also noted that the mental aspect of the sport plays a big factor in preparation and execution.
“It’s a huge mental game,” Awotunde said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re off, when you’re really the same person you were last week when you [set a personal record]. There’s something in your mind that is setting you back. You have to stay confident.
“They say your best throws come unknowingly. Going through the ring, everything feels so right and effortless. The more effort you have to put in your throws, the more you tighten up. You want to stay relaxed.”
Awotunde began honing his skills at an early age as his track and field career began in middle school, but not as you might expect.
“I was a sprinter when I was in middle school,” Awotunde smiled. “I thought I was going to be a 400 meter runner. We started weightlifting for high school football in the seventh grade, I’ve always done everything seriously. I never missed a day in the weight room. I beefed up. My high school football coaches were also my track coaches. So they recruited me for the throws. The first day I was out there, I had never done it, but I was beating everyone else on the team. They were good coaches who wanted to send their athletes to college, and that’s always made a difference for me.”
While he threw the football well, he can throw the 16 pound shot very well. Success hasn’t come overnight. Awotunde had many offers to compete in college, but he chose South Carolina.
“The SEC is the best conference in the country, in all athletics as a whole,” Awotunde said. “I liked the culture here. Everyone was so athletics-driven. So that, along with the Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center), is what was the most intriguing to me.”
After winning a New Jersey high school state title as 225-pound quarterback, Awotunde has since bulked up by 50 pounds.
“A lot of that goes to what we’re eating in the Dodie,” Awotunde said. “It’s really good food. I also like what we’ve been doing in the weight room. It’s been really consistent.”
An honor roll student at South Carolina, Awotunde has earned a degree in public health, is already working toward earning another degree in exercise science, and is applying to physical therapy school. However, a professional career in track and field isn’t out of the question as he is a man of many interests.
“Track has been good to me,” Awotunde said. “I love listening to music. I tried picking up the guitar. I’ve tried picking up different beats on music apps. I also picked up golf recently. I’m not very good, yet.”
Make no mistake however, now that Awotunde has tasted success, he has his eyes on taking care of unfinished business in the ring.
“Last year I wanted to come out and win SECs because it was at home here,” Awotunde said. “Then the week of SECs, I pulled my hamstring. I let that one slip away. There is so much that goes into staying healthy. This year I’m going to emphasize being consistent in the training room, being consistent with my sleep, how I practice, what I eat, and what I do in the weight room. To be on the stand with the gold medal at NCAAs would be an unreal feeling.”
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