CHATHAM, NJ - Ed Dennerlein received an early Christmas present from his parents: a toe board and two pieces of wood for a makeshift shot put circle. It was exactly what the Chatham High senior wanted.
A former baseball pitcher, the 17-year-old Dennerlein has discovered the joy that comes from throwing a 12-pound shot put. The toe board and wood will help him improve the practice setup he has in his back yard.
"The summer between my sophomore and junior year I was torn between baseball and track," Dennerlein said. "It was a very up and down time for me. After the winter of my junior year, I was hooked completely on the shot put. It made me find my happiness again. It really did. It brought enjoyment back into my life."
Dennerlein has gone through an amazing transformation. From mediocre shot putter, to school record holder in one year. At the 2013 Lid-Lifter Invitational track meet held at Drew University, Dennerlein finished 33rd with a throw of 34-8. This year, at the same opening meet, he won the event with a throw of 50 feet, six inches, an improvement of 16 feet.
That broke the school mark of 49 feet, six inches set by Jake Neumann in 2011.
Ed Dennerlein is the TAP into Chatham Athlete of the Week.
More remarkable than Dennerlein's school-record throw is the fact that the 6-3 1/2, 280-pounder changed from the "glide" to the "spin" style of throw only about a month before the season began.
"A month ago, I was in my back yard and struggling for weeks on end," Dennerlein said. "My problem was that it was a two-piece throw. I'd glide, stop and throw. After a bad day of practice, I decided to spin around and see what I could do and I hit 54 feet in my back yard. That's when I decided 'This is what I'm going to do.' I worked and worked and worked."
At the Lid-Lifter, Dennerlein received instant gratification for his self-taught spin move in the very first meet of the season. He won the meet and broke the record on his final throw.
"I felt all the pressure caving in before that last throw," he said. "After I hit 50-6, I felt great; completely lifted up. I was having a very good meet, but that throw made me look at it as the reason I changed."
Dennerlein was a baseball pitcher and first baseman through his sophomore year, but made the switch to track fulltime in the spring of his junior year. He had picked it up the shot put as a hobby the winter before.
"My dad's reaction was, 'You're giving up baseball for a fake sport?,' Dennerlein said. "It's not what you think of a typical sport. No one says, 'I'm going to the track game.' I admit I still miss baseball, but now I'm in a completely different world."
Dennerlein used to research pitching techniques and watch video to learn as much as he could about baseball. He has that same appetite for learning when it comes to the shot. He likes to watch video of University of Georgia's Nick Vena, who still holds the New Jersey state record with his throw of 75-10 1/4 while at Morristown High, and another collegian, Ryan Crouser of Texas.
"I love watching Nick Vena. He is the fastest spinner on this planet," Dennerlein said. "I watch him and try to get his speed. I don't try to do his technique because his technique is flawless. I try to replicate Ryan Crouser rather than Vena. Crouser's start and first kick around is slow and very controlled. I'm working on my speed. My objective is to get faster. The more momentum, the further it's going to go."
Dennerlein says he won't have his "breakthrough moment" this winter season until he hits 51 feet. Last spring, Dennerlein felt his breakthrough moment was when he hit 42 feet. He later went on to throw 47 feet, 7 1/4 inches, breaking the outdoor school mark of 47 feet, 2 1/4 inches set by Sam Grammer in 2002.
"I didn't place in any of the events last spring, except for the last two and the best I finished was sixth place," Dennerlein said. "I'm a big guy. Shot requires, concentration, focus, size and technique."
Chatham track coach Pat Barry was surprised to hear that Dennerlein changed his throwing style right before the season started.
"Last spring he told me he wanted to break the school record and I didn't believe him," Barry said. "He started coming on last spring. He's big and he's a good kid."
Dennerlein credits coach Barry and throws coach Jason Mariano with the positive reinforcement he needed to excel.
"Coach Barry is the main reason I kept doing track," Dennerlein said. "When I hit 40 feet for the first time, I was ecstatic. He was probably more happy than I was. He is always so supportive. He's the reason I watched videos and got to the point where I am now. The thing I love about the coaches at Chatham is that they're completely supportive."
Dennerlein is hoping to gain an early decision acceptance into The College of New Jersey, where he would join his personal coach, Anthony San Filippo. But before he heads to college, he has some big goals he'd like to achieve as a Cougar.
"My goal is to hit 60 feet before my career is over," said Dennerlein, who has increased his weight lifting for more strength. "I want to leave here with a record that won't be broken for 10 or 15 years."
Dennerlein also throws the discus and javelin for Chatham, and he plans on improving in those events, too. There are more Dennerleins on the way up in track. His brother, Matt, took fifth place in the frehman shot put at the DeSchriver Invitational on Monday. Also, there is seventh grader Sam Dennerlein, who already has set his sights on the Chatham High discus record.
This spring, Dennerlein is looking forward to working with Chatham's youth track participants. He's hoping that one day one of them will break the marks he sets this year.
"It would make me happy to see one of my records broken," Dennerlein said. "i want to know someone bested me because that means the Chatham program is succeeding."