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Columbus High's Verner wins state title


Adam Minichino



Justin Verner had "it" last year. 


The only problem was he didn''t know how to use his talents in the high school powerlifting world of dead lifts, bench presses, and squats. 


But the Columbus High School sophomore certainly gets it now, and his reward Saturday was a state title. 


Verner won the 242-pound weight class with a combined weight of 1,505 pounds to take the Class 6A crown at the Mississippi High School Activities Association State meet at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. 


"It was exciting to bring a state title to the school," Verner said. "I expected to do well because I worked so hard through the summer and after football season was over." 


Aberdeen High''s Anthony Bean (165 pounds) and West Point''s Curtis Virges also won state titles. 


In Class 3A, Bean won his weight class with a combined mark of 1,190 pounds, while Virges, competing in the 308-pound weight class in Class 5A, had a winning total of 1,545. 


In Class 6A, Columbus finished third (18 points) behind Gulfport (42) and Madison Central (29). 


Verner, a starting right guard on Columbus High''s football team, surprised many of the participants and coaches at the meet because of his youth. Verner, who recently turned 16, said he messed up a lot as a freshman in trying to master the technique required to record official lifts. 


But Verner said he remained focused and made his biggest gains this season after the North Half State meet, adding 50 pounds on squat, 25 pounds to his bench press, and a little bit on dead lift. 


"I just wanted to go in every day and work as hard as I can," Verner said. "I believed it could do it. I think I made a huge impression on everybody (at the state meet)." 


Columbus High powerlifting coach Grady McCluskey said Verner''s character is part of the reason he has been so successful this early in his career. He said Verner surprised him and many people at the state meet by taking the title. 


"I thought he would do good, but I didn''t think he would win a state title at 242," McCluskey said. "He was the only 10th-grader in his group. A lot of people were amazed he was a sophomore. His potential in that sport is unlimited. He should sets some records next year." 


McCluskey said Verner squats 600 pounds and attempted 635 at the state meet but missed it. He said Verner could have done a lot more than 315 on the bench press and just did what he needed to win on the dead lift.  


"He is a great kid," McCluskey said. "He does everything we ask, he is real conscientious, and he just has a special talent, in football too. He did a great job. We''re looking for a lot of positive things in football and in powerlifting in the next couple of years." 


Verner narrowly missed qualifying for the North Half State meet. He said he realized at Verner''s first meet that he would be a competitor. He said Verner needed to record a mark in the squat or he would be put out and he delivered. 


"He is one of those kids when the pressure is on he gets better," McCluskey said. "When he did that lift I said we''re going to have something. He is one of those guys who tries to excel in whatever he does." 


The Falcons could have received a lift from Ryan McDonald in the 242-pound weight class, but he failed to record a total. 


Columbus'' Chris Richardson took second at 181 with a combined weight in the dead lift, bench press, and squat of 1,380 pounds. He tied with Gulfport''s Lamar Smith, but Smith took the title by virtue of his weight (164.8 pounds to Richardson''s 178.8). 


Lavorus Petty also took fourth at 308 (1,515 pounds), and Rickey Knox finished third at super heavyweight with a mark of 1,425. 


In Class 2A, East Webster''s Thomas Brooks and Brandon Tallent tied for fifth with 625 pounds in the 123-pound weight class. The Wolverines'' Jaqualin McCurry took second at 181 with a combined weight of 1,190, while Timakis Bell at 275 was third (1,440), and Hunter Cunningham at super heavyweight was second (1,330). 


Also in Class 2A, West Lowndes'' Eddie Tucker was fifth at 308 (1,190). 


In Class 3A, Aberdeen''s Xavier Robinson took fourth at 181 (1,175) and DeCedrick Quinn didn''t record a total at 198. 


In Class 4A, Louisville''s Ryan Idom was third at 308 (1,325). 


In Class 5A, West Point''s Gary Hughes was third at 148 (1,100) and teammate LaKenderic Thomas was second at 198 (1,270). 


In Class 6A, Starkville''s Rapheal McClain was sixth at 123 (650). 


In the girls Class III meet, Columbus High''s Courtney Jones was fifth at 105 (465) and Starkville High''s Latifah Booker was second at 132 (685). The Yellow Jackets'' Latedra Burkhalter didn''t record a total.


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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