On one side of a metal fence is a massive athlete, standing on
cement platform. On the other side of a fence is ferocious coach,
commanding his athlete to explode every time he winds up for a
throw. The picture comes to life at every Michigan track meet.
These athletes are the biggest guys on the team, so big they almost
look out of place. But the men who proudly call themselves throwers
for the Michigan men’s track team are big part of the team,
in terms of their contributions as well as their size.
The throwers squad is primarily comprised of four men, making
their training more intimate and individualized. Sophomore Brad
Hoffman takes care of the shot put, freshman Chris McHugh covers
the hammer and while freshman Matt Shillito takes care of the
discuss. The most seasoned thrower, junior Nick Vander Ploeg, is
sitting out during the outdoor season to recover from an injury
that surfaced during indoor season. Vander Ploeg is the
Wolverines’ top discus thrower.
While being a successful thrower requires a great deal of
strength, finesse is by far the most important trait in a good
thrower. Every thrower in college learns to use a spin technique
for launching the disc, hammer and shot. At the highest level of
collegiate competition, complete body control and nimble footwork
separate the strong men from the great throwers.
“When you’re looking at a thrower, you look at how
much control he has,” assistant coach Ricky Deligny said.
“Then you look at the body type. We’re looking for a
guy built like a defensive linemen — someone who has a lot of
control over his body.”
With such a small group, the throwing facilities are very
“We get a lot more throws in during practice,”
Shillito said. “In high school, there are a lot of throwers
that you have to work with. We only have two guys throwing disc, so
I could throw for 45 minutes no problem.”
Each athlete needs the strength and endurance to last an entire
season. While each thrower spends a good amount of time working out
every detail of their throw, they still have to hit the
“We do a lot of plyos, full-body workouts,” McHugh
said. “In the weight-room, we don’t just do
power-lifts, we do a lot to strengthen our core muscles.”
Throwers make their way to the weight-room three to four days a
week to gain that extra few inches, and to ward off injuries.
The Wolverines typically travel on weekends, so their mental
edge can fade in the days in-between meets. Keeping intensity up
between meets is a team effort.
“Everybody pushes everyone else,” Shillito said.
“We’re really a close knit group, and there’s a
lot of competition between us.”
The competition in practice carries itself over into the
weekends when the Wolverines pit themselves against other throwers.
When each man is in his throwing circle, he must push everything
out of his mind. He concentrates solely on getting his grip,
setting his feet and giving it his all in one quick burst.
The Wolverines will get a chance to take their hard work to the
field when they travel to Atlanta to compete in the Yellow Jacket
Invitational hosted by Georgia Tech.