DES MOINES — Sweaty palmed and trembling, Northern Iowa all-American thrower Jordan Williams took center stage.
This is before the former Monticello standout branched out, becoming one of the best in the nation to heave a shot or unfurl a discus.
It’s eighth grade and Williams has been enlisted to sing a solo.
All alone, he stood.
Uneasy, but determined.
“I was very, very shy in middle school,” said Williams, a senior who enters this week’s Drake Relays undefeated in the discus this season. “It was a whole awkward phase, with the baby fat, the braces, so I was pretty quiet. But then once I started doing it I really started to enjoy it and I wanted to do it more and more and that led into me being in other things.”
Williams‘ renaissance man qualities continue to fuel his burgeoning success in the ring.
Brute strength, which he’s built under throws coach Dan O’Mara and strength coach Jed Smith, forms a foundation from which proper technique produces elite results.
O’Mara was asked to aid in Williams’ development four years ago.
He was a volunteer coach at Ames High School at the time — after spending 17 years as part of Iowa State’s track and field staff.
“I said, ‘OK,’” said O’Mara, who has helped the Panthers place an average of four throwers in the regional finals the past three years. “Went in there and worked with him and thought, ‘Man, he could be an all-American.”
Williams achieved that goal last season, attaining second team all-American status at the NCAA outdoor meet with a top discus hurl of 183-10.
He finished 14th and became UNI’s first-ever all-American thrower after needing a late, clutch push to even qualify.
“Once I got in, it was just about having fun,” Williams said. “There wasn’t a lot of pressure. … Leave it all out there, do the best you can and that’s what I did.”
Just like that solo performance so many years ago.
“I was shaking like a leaf the whole time,” recalled Williams, whose list of goals this season includes winning his first Relays title. “It was definitely an adrenaline rush being up there and that’s another thing I enjoyed about it. And that’s another thing I enjoy about throwing. You’re on your own. When you’re in the ring, it’s just you. You have to prove to yourself that you can do it.”
*Other Iowa-based university athletes to watch: Pretty much the entire Iowa men’s team. The Hawkeye men enter the Relays ranked higher than ever — No. 12, according to the USTFCCCA. Sprinter Justin Austin is ranked fourth in the 200. Thrower Gabe Hull ranks sixth in the discus (and finished fourth at the Relays a year ago). … UNI’s Daniel Gooris will try to defend his Relays title in the decathlon, which began day two this morning. … The Panthers’ Paige Knodle also hopes to make a splash in the heptathlon, 400 and javelin. … Several of Iowa State’s top runners, including former Xavier standout and U.S. Olympic Trials participant Meaghan Nelson will be competing at other venues. Nelson is slated to run at the prestigious Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., on Sunday.