May 14, 2014 11:02:01 PM
MACON -- It's a good thing Qendarrion Barnett isn't superstitious.
After all, the Noxubee County High School sophomore was set to compete Saturday in his first Mississippi High School Activities Association overall state track and field, so it would have been understandable if the slightest deviation to the routine upset his concentration.
Not having the disc you have used all season would fit into that category.
But Barnett showed his focus and perseverance were up to the challenge on the state's biggest stage as he borrowed a disc from one of his competitors and won the Class 4A discus crown with a throw of 138 feet, 9 inches.
"I was nervous, but I knew I had to go in there and try my best," Barnett said. "I knew I could do it. I had to prove it and not buckle under pressure."
The title capped a long journey back from a fractured right elbow last year that required surgery and derailed Barnett's chances of competing in the overall state meet as a freshman.
"He worked really hard to come back," Noxubee County High track and field coach Tyrone Shorter said. "He got tremendously strong in the weight room. He is a good kid and well mannered. He comes from a good family. He just worked so hard to come back. He got better and better as the track season progressed."
Shorter said it was probably his fault Barnett didn't get to compete in the overall state meet because he caved in to Barnett's pleas to play spring football. Shorter, who also is the Tigers' football coach, said Barnett suffered a hit to the elbow that he initially didn't believe was serious until doctors announced it was fractured.
Barnett, who is right-handed, has been throwing the discus since seventh grade. He admitted it was disappointing to get injured last season because his throws were getting better every meet and that he felt he could have advanced to the North State meet and to the overall state meet.
This season, Barnett learned the discus wasn't all about strength.
After trying to throw the discus only with his arm, he said he incorporated more technique into his throws, which helped him record longer distances.
"If you really push yourself you can accomplish anything," said Barnett, whose nickname is "June Bug." He said his father gave him the nickname.
Since the injury, Shorter said Barnett has worked hard to get back to 100 percent. He said Barnett has grown stronger in the weight room and has improved his speed and technique in the circle to put himself in position to win a state title.
Barnett had plenty of success on the road to Pearl High. He won the discus at the Class 4A, District 4 meet (134-6 3/4) and at the Class 4A, Region 2 meet (133-9) before finishing second to Greenwood's Bennie Higgins at the Class 4A North State meet (129-11 1/2). While Barnett took a step back with his throw, Higgins rebounded from a Region 2 meet where he threw 118-1 to take third.
Things were different at the overall state meet. Although it took Barnett until his fourth throw to record the winning distance, he said he didn't let the pressure of the moment affect his concentration.
Shorter recalls telling Barnett he would win the Class 4A state title if he continued to throw at or near the 140-foot mark. He said Barnett didn't believe him, but he saw his coach was telling the truth.
"I told him with hard work he can be a three-time state champion in the discus," Shorter said. "I just told him to continue his technique and I think he will be able to throw even further than that."
With a seed mark of 141-11 from the East Mississippi Classic on April 12 in Meridian, Barnett is looking forward to the future. Not only did he handle the pressure of being on the state's biggest stage, but he also found his comfort zone and was able to put everything together.
"When I got ready to spin, it was like everything got quiet and I just threw," Barnett said. "I had that feeling when I was at Meridian (when he threw the 141-11). It has given me a lot of confidence. It tells me I have to work harder next year to improve so I can stay state champ and move on to the next level."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.