Making what could be a life-changing decision, Collinsville High School senior Martinus Mitchell didn't wilt late last year when he chose to quit basketball and concentrate on track and field.
Standing 6-foot-6, with a wingspan of over 7-feet, and weighing in at a sleek 240 pounds, Mitchell has his priorities in order.
"It was tough for me not to play basketball,'' Mitchell said. "But in thinking about my future, I felt this was the best thing for me to do.''
Fourth in the shot put at the Class 3A state track and field meet last year, Mitchell wasted little time proving his decision was the correct one.
Competing at the Charleston Indoor Track Meet at Eastern Illinois University last month, Mitchell won the event with a career-best throw of 60 feet, 10 inches.
The toss, which was more than 5 feet better than the 55 feet 6 1/4 inches he threw at the state meet last May, is the best in the state this season and 14th best in the nation.
Kyron Tucker, of Normal West, has the second longest throw in the state at 58-9 3/4.
"It was good for me to make the decision so I could get stronger, train and work on my form. At this stage of the season, I'm ahead of where I have been in the past,'' Mitchell said. "I was surprised I had that throw that day. It was my last one and I just popped it out there as far as I could.''
Mitchell has been throwing the shot put and discus for the last five years. Growing up in East St. Louis, Mitchell got his introduction to the shot put in the sixth grade. His family moved to Collinsville before his freshman year.
"I played football and basketball and I had never done track until my sixth-grade year. I was a big kid and found out I could do track and field,'' Mitchell said. "I threw the shot put and discovered I had a gift in that event.''
Mitchell began to make a name for himself during his sophomore season. His top regular season throw of 51-2 was the second longest in the state for a sophomore.
But he failed to qualify for state in 2012.
Last year it was a different story for the soft-spoken Mitchell. After placing fourth at the Rock Island Sectional with an effort of 56-8, Mitchell earned the fourth-place medal at the state finals with his toss of 55-6 1/4.
"I was a little nervous at the state finals, since it was my first time being there,'' Mitchell said. "I was happy and maybe a little surprised placing fourth. It was also great competing with and getting to know some of the other throwers from around the state.''
The fourth-place effort also opened the eyes of college coaches from around the Midwest, who saw the potential of the athletic Mitchell.
Mitchell has been aided in his development by Collinsville assistant coach Chad Burgess. A former standout at Triad, Burgess went on to compete at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Mitchell has signed to attend SIUE beginning in the fall.
Burgess thinks Mitchell has a chance to make an immediate impact with the Cougars.
"I think he's got chance to compete for all-conference honors in the Ohio Valley Conference as a freshman. Martinus is 6-6, 240 pounds, strong and has a 7-1 wingspan. You can't teach a 7-1 wingspan, which really helps when you are throwing the discus,'' Burgess said. "What makes him so good is that he works hard every day. Martinus is probably the best we've had for a long time.
"The (Collinsville) outdoor record, which was set in 1969, is 57 feet, 5 inches and I expect he'll break that before long here. Usually, an athlete will be able to throw the shot 2 to 3 feet longer outdoors than indoors. If that's the case, we're looking at him going 62 to 63 feet this spring, which would be one of the longest we've seen.''
Mitchell said his goal is to win the state title.
"Whatever it takes. I want to win the state championship,'' Mitchell said. "I think I can throw it 63 to 64 feet.''
Mitchell plans to major in business management at SIUE.