JEFFERSON, Georgia-- Inside the circle, the hefty athlete crouches as he grips the shot-put. He stares nervously at the ground below, and for one hushed moment he tries to clear his mind. He lifts the shot high above his head. He takes a deep, cleansing breath. Then suddenly, with a well-rehearsed move that consumes every ounce of energy in his body, he spins, plants his tree-trunk-like legs, grimaces, lunges, emits a shout like a crazed banshee, and thrusts the iron spheroid heavenward...
The athlete's name is Mac Pyle. He has come here representing Adairsville High School at the Georgia Olympics, better known as the GHSA Boys Track and Field Championships. Having easily won his region in the shot, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound redhead has come in quest of one goal-- a state championship.
Last year, as a junior, he finished second with a toss of 51 feet, 8 inches. This time around, second will not be good enough. He is going for the gold.
In just a few days he will don cap and gown and leave high school behind. In August he will report to Vanderbilt University to begin a college football career under Coach Bobby Johnson. But on this humid afternoon at Jefferson High, where the best athletes in Georgia have assembled for one climactic weekend, he's not thinking about any of that. He's concentrating on what he has to do to launch that perfect toss.
Pyle's first attempt, a good one, is not measured by officials. Now as he shades himself from the blistering sun underneath the bleachers, waiting for his second attempt, all nervousness is gone.
Once again, with steeled eyes and a surge of adrenaline, the man-child enters the circle. His second attempt will be golden.
The athlete goes into his routine a second time. This time, instead of stepping over the front of the circle, he catches himself. His toss is a beauty, arcing across the blue north Georgia sky. "Fifty-two feet, seven and a half inches," yells the official. No scratch this time. The athlete lets a little smile slip from beneath his trademark red goatee.
In the bleachers, Curt Wallace, his coach from Adairsville gives makes a fist jubilantly. "He's gotta be happy about that one."
At the most important meet of his life, Pyle has come through with the put of his life. It's a personal record, over four feet farther than his winning throw at the region meet. Now securely in first place, Pyle can relax a bit and see if anyone in Class A will be able to match or better his distance.
No one will.
The state championship medal is just one more stellar achievement in a high school career that's been filled with them. The versatile Pyle will leave Adairsville, a pleasant hamlet located midway between Chattanooga and Atlanta, as something of a local legend. The muscle-bound senior is the first varsity athlete in school history to collect a total of 16 varsity letters--a staggering feat.
"He is a very good fit for Vanderbilt," says his high school football coach, Johnny Gulledge. "[He's] a very intelligent young man who has all the tools required to play in the Southeastern Conference. He has been a huge part of our success and is just learning how to play the offensive line. These kind of guys do not come along very often."
Four of his letters came in football, where he was an All-State performer and led Adairsville to an 11-2 record his senior year. Four came in basketball, four more came in track in field, three in baseball, and one in... golf?
"Yeah, I had a pretty heavy courseload this semester, so I had to give up baseball my senior year," says the Iron Man. "But I wanted to get that sixteenth letter, so I tried out for the golf team, and made it.
"I didn't do too great, but I'm going to Vanderbilt, you know, so I figured golf would come in handy there," he laughs.
Pyle was a late addition to Johnson's first recruiting class-- a surprise commitment-- and his recruiting story is an interesting one. Though earning recognition as one of the best offensive line prospects in Georgia, Pyle almost found himself a man without a scholarship on signing day.
Recruiters from a number of Division I-A schools came to scout him at Adairsville, most notably the homestate University of Georgia. For most of his senior season, it appeared certain that Georgia would offer. While Georgia strung Pyle along, most other schools eventually backed off, thinking Pyle was a lock to become a Bulldog.
Then the unthinkable happened-- Georgia unexpectedly landed a couple of national-quality offensive linemen late in the recruiting process, and the expected offer from Mark Richt never came. By the final weekend for high school recruiting, most other schools had already filled their classes with commitments. Pyle became an SEC-caliber prospect without an offer.
On Saturday, Jan. 30, the last day that coaches could call players before the "dead" period, Pyle received an early-morning call from the Vanderbilt staff. Commodore coaches, who were trying to hurriedly assemble a recruiting class, had had two late de-commitments by offensive linemen. They wanted to know if Pyle could come up for a visit.
"But I had a basketball game that night!" said Pyle. "I asked if I could come up on Sunday instead, and they said, sure. So that Sunday I drove up and looked over the campus. I loved it. They offered, I accepted, and I drove back to Adairsville-- all in one day."
Pyle says he's glad now it all worked out the way it did. "Vanderbilt is just a great school," he says. "You can get a great education there, a lot better than at Georgia. They just haven't had a whole lot of success on the football field, and I want to be part of turning that around."
Pyle says he was blown away by Vandy's new coaching staff. "Coach [Ted] Cain was the guy who recruited me," he said. "He's such a funny guy. He always makes me laugh. Coach [Robbie] Caldwell will be my position coach. He's just a good ol' boy, and I like that." (Pyle confesses to being a bit of a "good ol' boy" himself.)
"And Coach Johnson-- he's not the kind of coach who stands off to the side and lets his assistants do all the work. He's right in there with the assistants, working with the players, and I like that.
" As for the University of Georgia, Pyle says, "I hate 'em now. I want to beat 'em so bad."
For his first three years of high school Pyle played tight end, where he was a formidable weapon. (It's hard to visualize your average high school linebacker bringing down a load like Pyle.) But in his senior year, his high school coaches, realizing he had a chance to play offensive line at the next level, moved him to offensive line. It worked.
Depth on the offensive line figures to be a problem for the 2002 Commodores, and Pyle hopes to be in good enough shape to help out if necessary. To get ready, he's been focusing his daily workouts on running and agility. "I know they're going to have us [the linemen] running a lot, so I haven't been lifting weights as much as I have been trying to