Growing up, Ethan Dennis didn’t envision himself going to college on a track scholarship. But in hindsight, he probably ended up in the right place.

Dennis, a redshirt sophomore, is a key component of the group of athletes that lead the Michigan men’s track and field team in this season.

As a football player at Grandville High School, Dennis never gave any consideration to track until his JV football coach — also his throwing coach — convinced him to come throw to prepare for the football season. But during track season, Dennis realized his potential and saw his strengths in the shot put and discus.

It wasn’t until his junior year that he realized which sport to focus on.

“I had injuries my junior year of high school and it made me change my perspective,” Dennis said on Tuesday.

Last year, during his first season of competition at Michigan, Dennis had a rocky start and struggled to remain consistent. He finished 21st, at the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships and was unable to secure any points.

Many of his throws resulted in faults, often resulting from a lapse in the young thrower’s technique, as he was still learning weight coach Mohamad Saatara’s style. Dennis was disappointed with what had looked to be a promising season.

“I started out well, but the end was not too great for me,” Dennis said. “I was really motivated coming into that year, and I knew I had pretty good potential, but I didn’t quite reach it.”

Dennis spent more time working in the offseason to avoid a repeat of 2011.

“It takes a while to get used to those throws,” Dennis said. “I stayed in Ann Arbor this summer and spent a lot of time working on technique and got more reps underneath myself. I’ve definitely got a lot more consistent from where I was last year.”

His practice has paid off. Dennis set a personal best of 66 feet, 10 inches in the 35-pound weight throw during “The Dual” against Ohio State on Jan. 14th — the second longest throw in Michigan track and field history. But Dennis knows that one outstanding throw doesn’t equal a successful season.

“Last year I had that one big throw at The Dual and then teetered off toward the end of the year,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling.”

Dennis has put together two solid performances since “The Dual,” winning the Jack Harvey Invitational earlier in January and the Wesley A. Brown Invitational on Saturday, where he also set a meet record.

While Dennis is still perfecting his technique, he knows that there is a significant mental aspect to throwing.

“I have to pretend like its practice so (during competitions) I don’t change my technique,” Dennis said. “That’s where I got into trouble last year. I can’t let my mind get in my way. I can’t think about it too much.”

Looking forward, Dennis remains optimistic that he can qualify for the NCAA Indoor National Championships. Ultimately, he would like to best his personal record before the season ends.

But as individual as throwing can be, Dennis isn’t putting himself before the team. This month, he looks to place highly in the Big Ten Indoor Championships and give his team a legitimate chance at bringing home a title.

As the Wolverines move toward the conference championships, they will look to Dennis’s leadership to carry them in the bigger invitationals. Though he isn’t a captain, the star finds himself mentoring younger athletes on technique and motivating others around him.

“I like to help people out with what they need,” Dennis said. “Some people look up to me, and I feel pretty honored by that.”

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