CHATHAM, NJ - Sam Dennerlein learned that sometimes you just have to put your foot down to make things work right.
That's what he discovered last week at the Morris County Track & Field Championships when the Chatham High junior won the gold medal in the shot put, setting the school record with a throw of 52 feet, 10.25 inches.
Dennerlein had come off what he considered a miserable indoor season that prompted him to take two weeks off from training and methodically work on his technique. It all came together for the 17-year-old recently when he realized the key was getting his front foot down quicker.
"I recognized some cues," he said. "It came down to getting my left foot down faster. The second my left foot got down, throw the ball. I felt like I was getting my foot down and waiting too long. I hadn't thrown 50 feet the entire season. I just started popping 54, 53, 56 in practice."
He's also has thrown 155 feet, 6 inches in the discus this season.
Sam Dennerlein is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
The Chatham High shot put record stayed in the family since Sam's older brother, Ed, set the previous school mark of 52 feet, 7 inches when he was a senior in 2015.
"He said it was a bad record anyway," Sam said of his brother's reaction. "I don't think he thought I was going to break it this soon."
Ed Dennerlein still holds the indoor shot put record at Chatham and he witnessed Sam's frustration through the indoor season.
"Indoors, it was just a lot of learning from all the failures; not winning counties when I easily should have," the junior said. "My technique was inconsistent and I couldn't find a rhythm. I ended my season with my worst throw of the season of 43 feet. After that, I just took two weeks off to mentally gather myself. I didn't take a break over the summer and my body was completely fried. I lost my will to do it. It was very frustrating and Eddie would tease that I'm never going to get a school record."
After rebuilding his form in the shot put, the quicker foot drop and throw made it all come together for Dennerlein, who is predicting a big throw in the near future.
"It's just a feeling. It's like a golf swing, when it's not right you know it," he said. "In practice, I threw 55 feet. I know I have a big throw coming. People are going to say where the heck did that come from?"
Although there is a sibling rivalry between the two brothers, Sam credits his big brother from getting him involved in the sport.
"If he never started throwing, I never would have," Sam said. "I was never a sports guy. I wasn't good at anything. In baseball I was awful, I wore dress shoes to play a basketball game. I hated sports. I was terrible.
"I was really shy with sports and I didn't like the pressure. I knew that if I did bad, the team would do worse and that caused me to do really bad. I was always stressed and embarrassed. In solo sports, if I do bad, it doesn't affect anyone else. I get frustrated, but I'm not embarrassed."
Witnessing Dennerlein at a meet, it's easy to tell that he's in his realm. Everyone knows him and he's quick to chat it up with the other competitors and the officials.
"I'm probably going to become a teacher," Dennerlein said. "At meets, I talk to a lot of guys and at practice, I'm like an extra coach."
At 5-10 1/2 inches, 205 pounds, Dennerlein is small for a shot putter and when he goes home he's the tiny one among his 6-3, 280-pound brother, Ed; his 6-5, 330-pound brother Matthew and his 6-2 father, Ed Sr.
"Here, they think I'm a big guy," Dennerlein said. "I go home, I'm looking up to everyone."
Regardless of how he throws in the state sectionals and beyond, Dennerlein has plans to do a lot of eating this summer.
"I want to be about 230 for my senior year," he said. "It's going to be a struggle. I'm not just going to gain fat and eat ice cream. I'm going to lift and add more muscle, too. Mass moves mass, so it will help push the ball through. If I'm going to throw 60 feet, I'm going to have to be bigger. There are only a couple guys in history who can throw that at my weight. I'm short, so I need to add weight.
"I drink a gallon of milk a day. I want to be at least 220 pounds. The goal is 230. I'm going to be a little tank."
Patrick Barry, the head Chatham track coach, wouldn't be surprised if Dennerlein also breaks the school discus mark of 178 feet.
"There isn't anyone more dedicated than he is," Barry said. "He's been able to compete with the big guys, When he says he wants to break that discus record, I believe he can do it."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.