LARAMIE — On May 20, Torrington senior Logan Harris set the Wyoming state shot put record, breaking the 27-year-old mark with a throw of 63 feet, 8.5 inches at the Wyoming State Track and Field Championships.
In the afterglow of his track and field achievement, however, he had his mind on football.
“I’m just ready to be competing for UW now,” Harris said at the time.
Harris had committed to Wyoming football 11 months earlier, the first known commitment of the Cowboys’ 2017 recruiting class. In December, he was joined by another shot putter with just one Division I offer: Javaree Jackson. In fact, while Harris had offers from NAIA schools Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College, Jackson, a defensive lineman, didn’t have a single offer other than Wyoming’s. He did, however, have interest from schools such as Brown and Navy for shot put.
Early signs are that Wyoming caught something everyone else missed with Harris and Jackson. Both are expected to play as true freshmen this year.
Shot put might not be the only reason for that. But the sport embodies two characteristics essential to the “Cowboy Tough” ethos: strength and self-reliance.
After all, defensive tackles coach Pete Kaligis, the Cowboys’ longest tenured coach, has a standout shot put career to his name.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence.
Harris’ eagerness to compete for the Cowboys was reflected in fall camp, when he earned the job of starting center.
“It was definitely really exciting,” Harris said. “It kind of shows all the stuff that you do doesn’t go unnoticed. Hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. That’s what I’ve always strongly believed in, that it would always pay off.”
His debut in Wyoming’s season opener brought pride to the Cowboy State, especially in Torrington.
“On Saturday, it was pretty fun,” said Russell Steinmetz, who coached Harris as both a shot putter and offensive lineman at Torrington. “A lot of brown and gold out in the community, that’s for sure. We’re proud of him, and a lot of places were advertising that they were going to have the game on and, ‘Watch Logan Harris.’”
Though Jackson didn’t see the field in the Cowboys’ loss at Iowa, head coach Craig Bohl has said he will play as a true freshman.
“You don’t know how good a kid you have until they leave you and go somewhere else and can shine,” said Matt Good, Jackson’s football and track and field coach at Wauwatosa West (Wisconsin) High school. “I think there were a lot of questions on Javaree when he left high school. Could he get grades? Could he get the ACT? Could he do this? Could he do that?
“He went there, and he’s found his niche, and he’s found a home, and he’s making the most of his opportunities, and we’re real proud of him. I know the best for him is still yet to come.”
Shot put gave Jackson somewhat of a comfort level with Wyoming. He had an easy ice breaker with Harris when the two arrived in Laramie.
“When we first actually started talking to each other we were like, ‘Hey, aren’t you the shot putter?’” said Jackson, whose personal record was 59 feet, 8.5 inches. “... It was pretty nice talking to him about that sometimes, just to get our mind off of football a little bit.”
Back when Jackson was being recruited, Kaligis made the trip up to Wauwatosa.
“He ended up helping teach some young kids how to hang clean, which was fun, and we got to talk a lot of shot put,” Good said of Kaligis. “He got to talk to Javaree about it, and I think that’s one of the things that really has made Javaree’s transition there really smooth is he’s got a coach that he’s got something in common (with) and something they can talk about. I think that’s really been a positive thing for all those guys.”
Harris and Jackson wouldn’t be a part of Wyoming’s rotations if they weren’t strong enough.
Steinmetz recalls that Harris, from his sophomore through senior year, showed up in the weight room on a Monday after Torrington’s football season ended on a Friday or Saturday.
“He lives in the weight room a lot of the time,” Steinmetz said. “... And when he was in there, it wasn’t like he was just in there. He was busting his tail.”
Harris holds several weightlifting records at Torrington.
“I mean, he has some sheer strength,” Steinmetz said. “He’s very explosive. You see that in the shot put ring, and when he’s out there on the football field. It’s just explosion. And a lot of that comes from just being strong.”
Considering shot put is a sport that involves heaving a 12-pound ball as far as possible, arm strength might be the first benefit that comes to mind.
“Many times it’s not so much the strength in the arms,” Bohl said. “It’s the lower-body explosion. And you don’t come up with those numbers by chance, so we’re pleased with both of those two guys.”
Said Good: “Without a doubt, it’s footwork. It’s learning how to be in balance, learning how to move your feet, getting everything to move as one. You’ve got to move your lower half and then the upper half. Just learning the footwork makes you a more explosive, more well-balanced football player.”
You’ll notice one mandatory trait of shot put throwers.
“Explosiveness, definitely,” Harris said.
That and technique.
“Everything has to come together to make everything right,” Harris said. “If one little thing, one of your steps, is a half-second early or a half-second late on the football field, you can get beat inside or outside.
“Same with the shot. If you don’t land correctly or your hips don’t come through at the same time when you’re throwing your arm, it could go south real quick. So definitely being able to put technique stuff together helps.”
That combination is crucial to success as a lineman, in particular.
“With shot put, it’s like a lot of power and technique and everything,” Jackson said. “I think that helped us with our power for the positions that we play now, because obviously defensive and offensive line, you’ve got to battle defensive linemen all day, for 60 minutes of the game. I think that was a huge, helpful thing for us to do shot put.”
But there’s a mental component, too, to sharing success both in the throwing circle and on the line of scrimmage.
“In shot put, every inch counts,” Jackson said. “I think it kind of relates to football, because certain blocks, if you get beat — no matter if you get beat by a lot or a little — if you get beat, you get beat. And that can screw up the whole play.”
Individual sports also lend a sense of self-reliance to their participants.
“Everyone has their little individual piece to make everything come together,” Harris said. “So you do your part, and you have to be able to trust the other people to do theirs, but I think doing an individual sport helps you concentrate on what you’re doing, instead of what others are doing.”
Said Kaligis: “When it comes down to track and field or swimming or any individual sport, you have to look yourself in the mirror, because if things aren’t going right, it’s because of you. It’s because of nobody else.”
That’s not a bad trait to have when every offensive play starts with the ball in your hands.
“All eyes were on him,” Steinmetz said of Harris. “So he kind of knows maybe what the quarterback is going through, something like that, and as the center in Laramie, he has to keep his poise and composure for that, too.”
The recent trend for high schoolers has not been to participate in multiple sports, given the level of specialization that has reached the youth ranks. But there are still plenty of coaches who would prefer their athletes play in other sports than just theirs.
Star Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen has become somewhat of a poster boy for the multi-sport athlete. The fact that he also played basketball and baseball in high school may have hurt him during his recruiting process, but his high school coaches believe it has made him the athlete, and competitor, he is today. It’s a philosophy that still stretches from Wyoming to Wisconsin.
“We want our kids competing in everything,” Good said, “because coaches are giving them the same message we’re giving them, just in a different word, a different context. And that helps kids learn and translate, ‘Oh, this coach in this sport is telling me this. This coach in this sport is telling me this.’ There should be a similar message going on there, and if they can take that and apply it and transfer it, you’ve got something special you’re building.”
If balancing two sports has become less common in high school, it’s become an absolute rarity in college.
“I think the training cycles and then the academic rigors, things like that, have made it such,” Bohl said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing, but that’s how it is. When I played, there were a lot of guys that played baseball and football or track and football, and it’s just not commonplace (anymore).”
Still, it could be in Jackson’s future. When he was recruited to Wyoming, Kaligis spoke with him about throwing shot put for the Cowboys. Kaligis suggested Jackson get settled on the football side of things first before making a decision. Jackson said he is 50-50 on competing in track and field, though he prioritizes football.
“If they have the ability and the opportunity to do both, that’ll be good,” Kaligis said. “But I think their primary goal right now is to become the best on the field they can become.”
If there’s anyone who knows about balancing football and shot put, it’s Kaligis. At Washington, Kaligis played offensive guard for the Huskies from 1990-94, starting for a national championship team in the process, and he was an all-American in shot put.
Kaligis won a gold at the 1995 U.S. Olympic Festival, took third at the 1995 University Games and competed in the World Games in Japan.
He competed in the 1996 Olympic Trials alongside John Godina, who texted Harris congratulations when he broke the Cheyenne Central grad’s state shot put record.
Kaligis predicted that Harris would break the record. Then again, so did Harris.
“He told me and his mom, he goes, ‘I’m going to break that state record today,’” Steinmetz said. “I was like, ‘I sure hope you do, Logan.’”
But even then, there was something missing.
“He always liked throwing and everything, but he was like, ‘I’ve got to go hit somebody,’” Steinmetz said. “I mean, I remember him saying that when we were at state track. ‘I can’t wait for football, to go hit somebody.’”