Tiger shot-putter spins his way to AAU nationals

Colby Miller used to treat shot-putting as a sport that kept him in shape for football during the off-season.

Then he found a way to put a new spin on it.

In about a year, Miller went from merely filling a roster spot on the Mount Pleasant High track and field team to being a nationally competitive AAU shot-putter.

Miller's meteoric rise from mediocrity can be attributed to him nearly perfecting shot-putting's spin move, the preferred style of the world's top throwers. Having shifted to that form prior to the winter indoor season, Miller considers himself still in training.

Miller has spun his way to the AAU National Championships in New Orleans on Aug. 1-6. He qualified by winning the Region 5 qualifier at UNC Charlotte on July 3.

Through elementary school, Miller had played only competitive soccer. He traded it in for football when he reached Mount Pleasant Middle, where he also picked up wrestling as well as track and field.

Miller turned into an all-conference wrestler and says he placed fourth at AAU nationals in eighth grade; however, his participation in the shot put, discus and 200-meter dash in track and field were unheralded.

Miller's soccer background helped him become the junior varsity kicker as a freshman at Mount Pleasant High. He also wrestled but decided not to participate in track and field.

A concussion sustained during a wrestling match midway through his sophomore year made him give up the sport.

He already had completed a season as the varsity kicker and established himself on the defensive line on the JV. At that point, Miller felt football was going to be his main sport. He tried track and field as a sophomore "just to stay in shape."

His best shot put was an unspectacular 37 feet, and he spent most of the Tigers' away meets at home.

Miller approached his junior year as a time to make a mark in shot-putting.

Until the winter indoor season, Miller had learned only the practical glide move for shot-putting - side-stepping one's feet and heaving the shot.

Though it is more difficult to master, Miller asked Tigers throwing coach Jim Clark to teach him the spin move. The 5-foot-7, 240 pounder's stocky build was a perfect match for it.

"It was really hard to change techniques," said Miller. "In the glide, it's more of a smooth motion because you have your feet under you at all times. But with the spin, it's harder to see the ball. You're off-balance, so you have to catch your balance."

Miller's best throw of 44 feet, 6 inches was 6 inches short of qualifying for the state meet. Still in the learning stage, Miller was on the rise during the spring outdoor season.

By the time the South Piedmont Conference meet was held in early April, Miller was close to peaking. He threw a personal best of 45 feet, 4 inches and finished second, earning an all-conference nod.

At the Midwest Regional meet three weeks later at his home track, he topped that mark by more than two feet. Miller's 47-foot, 6-inch toss was three-and-a-half inches behind the fourth-place finisher, which kept him from competing at the state meet.

Competing in AAU and USA Track and Field events for the first time this year, Miller finished first and second in his first two events.

"Number one, he's a pretty strong kid," said Clark, who coaches Miller in the summer. "He has the size. His physical stature makes it a plus for him. His upper-body strength and leg strength is just enormous."

"He has great speed for a young high school athlete. He's had the determination to master the spin move. Very few high-schoolers can master it," said Clark.

At the AAU Region 5 Qualifier on July 3, Miller was one of three competitors out of nine, in two age groups, who attempted the spin move.

His winning throw of 13.29 meters in the Young Men's division - more than 43 1/2 feet - left Miller somewhat disappointed.

"I think I did good, but I know I can do better," he said.