April 16, 2019 2:48:20 AM
Ben Portnoy - [email protected]
From the earliest he can remember, Caledonia senior powerlifter Dalton Cantrell has always been bigger and stronger than his counterparts.
A football player by trade, his thick frame and powerful stature suited the gridiron. But by the time he arrived at Caledonia as a freshman, he was approached about another opportunity.
"I played football for 11 years and it just came naturally honestly," Cantrell said of powerlifting. "Once I got into high school it just kind of took off from there."
During his four years on the Caledonia powerlifting team, he has won the district title four times, and completed a repeat in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A State Championship 308-plus weight class this past Saturday.
"I didn't know how it was going to go Saturday or anything," Cantrell said. "I had some good competitors coming in and it just really felt good."
Perched atop the podium with the runners-up alongside him, Cantrell's mind raced. It was the senior's last high school competition. When he would compete next was unclear.
But this wasn't a time for sulking, sadness or fearing the unknown. Rather, standing high above the other strong men and gathered fans, Cantrell could reflect.
Entering the season, he'd hoped to break the state squat record at 830 pounds. A healthy diet of stretching and yoga pushed Cantrell's flexibility to new heights as he chased the record.
As time came for the state meet there was a realization his maximum squat would not quite reach the mark. But with a year's worth of preparation and a state title already in tow, Cantrell had a medal to defend.
In response, the 434-pound senior put together a three-lift total of 1,660 pounds between the bench press, squat and deadlift. His 750-pound squat was the heaviest of any competitor regardless of competition.
"I could tell that this one meant a lot more to him," Caledonia coach Jason Forrester said. "Winning the first one was by far a great accomplishment and it did mean a lot. But I think this one, for whatever reason, it seemed a little more emotional for him and I think he really enjoyed it more and was really awesome to see him do it again."
Outside the gym, coaches and teachers alike rave about Cantrell's respect and determination.
During Saturday's meet, one of the women helping to run the event pulled Forrester aside.
The worker wanted to let Cantrell's head coach know how nice and polite his athlete had been throughout the championships.
With the exchange still resonating, Forrester took to his email Monday morning to express his gratitude to teachers around the school for helping to create that moment and shape Caledonia's latest state champion.
"I wanted to make sure that they understood how much I appreciated what they did for him, too," he said. "Because I got to reap the reward of those people telling me about how good he was. I just wish they had been there to hear it too."
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.