In his heart and on his time card, Justin Strand is still a football guy as much as he is a track guy.
Dragging the old fine-tooth through his vocabulary, however, snags evidence to the contrary.
“I was expecting a breakthrough,” the Stanford graduate student said of his performance at last weekend’s Golden Bear Invitational, which is a track meet and not the next tour stop for Tiger Woods, “but I wasn’t expecting 71 meters.”
Get that? Meters.
That’s the language of track and field in the distant precincts where track and field actually counts.
But then, it’s always counted with Justin Strand - even when he was an all-state linebacker at Gonzaga Prep who, we may have presumed, turned to the shot and discus in April only because the Greater Spokane League doesn’t sanction spring football.
“I looked at taking track scholarships (to college) as opposed to football,” said Strand, who won the State AAA shot and discus in 1993, his senior year at Prep. “At Stanford, track and field didn’t have the money to give me a full scholarship. I still wanted to attend the university and I obviously loved football, too, so taking a football scholarship was just the right thing to do.”
Now track is the only thing to do.
Had his stay on The Farm gone precisely as planned, Justin Strand would have the agent out stocking up on chips and dip for Saturday’s NFL draft party. Instead, he indulges - sparingly - in the whimsy of representing his country in the next Olympics.
Whimsy? Seventy-one meters - 71.16, to be exact - converts to 233 feet, 5 inches, the longest collegiate hammer throw of the season and one which would have placed fourth in last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
Not enough to make the team to Atlanta, but you get the idea. And so does Strand.
“I have one more year at Stanford to compete,” said Strand, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene. “If within the next year and a half I can start approaching the world standard, I’d be foolish not to continue training. I have aspirations such as the Olympics in 2000, but that needs to grow inside.”
And grow it should. Already, he is almost 20 feet beyond his best of a year ago and 50 feet past what he was able to reach as a freshman, when a Stanford teammate named Dave Popejoy - who did make the team to Atlanta - induced Strand to give the ball-and-wire a whirl.
“It’s a little barbaric,” Strand offered.
Of course, so is playing inside linebacker. That was Strand’s other love, but it didn’t love him back.
It was against UCLA his freshman season, when Strand took a helmet to his right knee on a kickoff return. A growth developed that six operations weren’t able to correct. Eventually, doctors pulled the plug on his football career.
The hammer, however, is perfectly safe, as long as it doesn’t slip from his grip and bang him in the knee.
“I don’t have to react to a running back coming through a hole,” he said. “If there are weeks when my knee is sore, I just don’t throw. But if I stepped on a football field, it wouldn’t be 20 minutes before I’d be back in the emergency room.”
Actually, he’s on the football field all the time.
Strand finished his requirements for a degree in economics in just three years, and has started work on a masters in sociology “in a one-year program I’m stretching out over two.” That leaves him enough, uh, spare time to work as a graduate assistant on Tyrone Willingham’s football staff - coaching inside linebackers and running the special teams.
“I was distraught at not to be able to compete with the friends I’d made here,” he said. “This keeps the football side of me alive.”
The track side is both alive and well. The next step would be to turn this quantum leap into consistent performance - and then make another quantum leap. The chalk line he’s eying is 74 meters - 243 feet to the rest of us.
“I had aspirations of playing football forever and ever, until I was 100,” Strand said. “I’m just happy I’ve found another avenue.”
One that might take him even farther than he’d imagined, at that.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review
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