Willamette senior Nate Matlock has his eye on 200-foot mark
Nate Matlock is back in the hammer ring, making noise in his final season for the Willamette Bearcats.
The thud is not just the 15-pound ball hitting the ground 170 to 180 feet away. It's the loud chant after another long throw by the Bearcat athlete.
Not only is Matlock continuing his amazing improvement in the hammer throw but he has lofty goals to help the Bearcats in other events this season.
He wants to win the hammer, shot put and discus in the Northwest Conference meet and qualify for the NCAA Division III meet in the hammer and discus.
"I think I can make it in the discus, and I'd like to finish in the top three in the hammer," he said.
At the rate of his steady improvement and with added strength and weight this spring, these could be realistic goals for the former Bearcat all-star football defensive end.
For example, Matlock was throwing the hammer in the 150 range at this time last season. He threw 177-10 on March 12 and 172-0 on March 19.
Matlock and his teammates will try and add to their marks Friday and Saturday in the Willamette Invitational at McCulloch Stadium. The hammer competition is at 4 p.m. Friday behind the Math Learning Center, 1850 Oxford St. SE. The other weight events are Saturday.
"The weather has helped, but a lot of it is because I've gained a lot of weight and I'm stronger," he said. "Last year at this time, I was 230-235; now, I'm 265."
Matlock, 6-foot-4, said he's the heaviest he's ever been for track mainly due to an intense weight training routine the past three months supervised by Soren Sorensen, the WU throws coach.
"It helps in your throw," Matlock said. "If you have your technique right, everything after that is strength. Soren is an old power lifter. He's all about getting bigger and stronger."
Sorensen, a former NAIA all-America thrower at Western Oregon, said his program is designed to build strength early in the season.
"My program has more volume than some," he said. "Nate's body is tired because of high-volume workouts. We start peaking for nationals now, but he's three months ahead of schedule. He's put up numbers he hadn't put up until conference."
Sorensen remains surprised by Matlock's development in the hammer, an event he began throwing at Willamette.
"I've never had a kid at this age improve so much like he has," Sorensen said. "A lot of it has to do with his track training. But he's always been a football guy doing track. This year he's devoted through nationals for track."
Matlock, who originally went to Wyoming, came to Willamette four years ago to play football. He enjoyed an all-star career by gaining several honors, including 2003 NWC defensive player of the year and 2004 Division III Coaches Association all-America team.
Because of his improvement and the unusual nature of the hammer, Matlock enjoys it the most of his events. Four years ago, that wouldn't have been the case.
"In my first meet I threw 98 feet," he said. "I didn't know how to do it. I used one turn. It takes awhile because it's so awkward. No one ever comes out and throws it right away.
Most guys do three spins. I do four spins because it helps me. Every spin I do I get faster. A lot of guys can't control it and go out of the ring. Sometimes, it's hard to stay in. If you're footing is right, it's perfect."
Matlock spun his way to a sixth-place finish at nationals last year with a throw of 181-5. It came after a series of personal bests that peaked at 192-4 in the Last Chance Meet at Willamette in May.
"I don't know what happened, but I went way up real fast," he said. "It was a good time to peak."
With the main season starting this weekend, Matlock has already thrown in the 180s in practice. He'd like to throw 200 feet.
"It has to be dry and sunny, and I have to be relaxed," he said. "I throw a lot better when I'm relaxed rather than tight and tense, when I have good technique and let 'er rip."
Matt McGuirk, Willamette track coach, said Matlock's technique was been the biggest reason for his improvement in the hammer.
"He controlled his speed and he got his timing down," McGuirk said. Sorensen thinks Matlock can qualify for nationals in the discus because of his technique.
"He's possibly the most explosive I've ever coached," Sorensen said. "He has good feet. I haven't had to change much of his technique. He's heavier than last year which allows him to do more."
Matlock believes he needs to improve from his current conference discus best of 152-11 to at least 160 to make nationals.
"It's the most challenging because you have to do everything perfect," he said.
Matlock was the NWC champion in the shot put in 2002 and 2003, but showed signs of throwing more than 50 feet with a conference-best 49-10 on March 18.
Matlock's presence at nationals would be one of many possible entries for Willamette, which tied for third last year.
But he's still not convinced his football days are finished. Defensive line coach Tanner Smith has sent tapes of Matlock to some teams in the Canadian Football League.
Another option for the math major is graduate school, where he has been accepted to Boise State in his hometown.
In the meantime, he plans to enjoy his final spring at Willamette spinning in the hammer ring.
"It's the most fun because it's like you're going through a ride spinning around," he said. "And screaming."
This story was written by Reid English for the Statesman Journal and appeared on March 30, 2005.
© 2005, The Statesman Journal. Reprinted with permission.