Sam Hankins Stays Grounded Even as His Javelin Soars

"I have to focus on myself versus the tape measure. I want better marks. I want to throw better than my personal best. I want to push the limits of what I can do." -- Sam Hankins

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By Pat Melgares - Kansas MileSplit

In his own aw-shucks sort of way, Sam Hankins tells you in one sentence a lot of what you need to know about the Manhattan High School junior.

You may think you already know what he's all about...or you may not. You do know for sure that he's the 6-foot, 170 pound speeding bullet who throws the javelin a mile--or so it seems--and who has captured the attention of track and field fans in the United States and at least a few other countries.

Entering this week, Hankins is the No. 1 ranked javelin thrower in the United States, a lofty status that he reclaimed last Saturday at the Howard Wood South Dakota Relays in Sioux Falls. He picked up his seventh win of the high school season when he threw a season-best 220 feet, 2 inches.

And in doing so, he passed good buddy Ty Hampton of North Bend (OR) High School, who had taken over the nation's top spot from Hankins on April 13 with a throw of 216-10.

But, this is not really what's foremost on Hankins' mind when you ask him what lies beyond high school.

"I want to continue my academic and athletic career in college," he says.

Not lost is the fact that Hankins put academics ahead of athletics. Nor was it by chance. Hankins is not about to be the look-at-me athlete that lets his success on a javelin runway bulldoze more important priorities.

It's a refreshing outlook from a kid who has had virtually nothing but success since he burst on to the Kansas high school track and field scene three seasons ago. He has won 23 of 24 meets as a Manhattan High School athlete, including the 2017 and 2018 KSHSAA Class 6A titles.

The only blemish on his record is a second-place finish in 2017 at the Horace Goodhawk Invitational in Great Bend, where he was beaten by senior teammate, Josh Haus, who now throws for the University of Oklahoma.

"Some javelin throwers are really big, they're really strong, they're really muscular. That's not really my type," Hankins said. "I think I'm fast, I'm quick. I'm not going to say I'm super athletic, but I'm athletic enough. I know how to get the form down. The biggest thing comes from arm speed. I train to have a really quick arm. And that really helps."

Hankins' win at state as a freshman came in dramatic fashion. Lawrence's Hunter Krom led the competition at 204-2 with just one round to go. But on his last throw of the competition, Hankins roared down the runway and let loose with a mighty yelp and a mighty throw.

204-10. State champion.

Perhaps everyone but Krom was thrilled by the scene. It was as dramatic a finish as any field event could get and the drama was provided by a rising freshman star from Manhattan.

Hankins easily defended his state title last year as he was one of the key cogs in Manhattan's run to the class 6A state championship.

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 Early Success

Hankins gave a very early indication that he was headed for success when he won the AAU Junior National Olympics championship in 2013 as an 11-year-old. His throw of 140 feet for the turbo javelin still stands as the national age group record.

In middle school, he had signed up to throw the shot put and discus, but his coaches had a rule that every athlete would have three events.

"I really didn't like to run," he said, "so I decided to try the javelin."

It was a good choice.

In addition to rolling through junior high and high school meets the past five years, Hankins has finished in the top three at various post-season competitions, including wins at the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque, the Frederick Bastian Track and Field Classic in the Bahamas, and the U18 JenJav Festival in Jena, Germany.

It was at that latter meet where Hankins uncorked the best throw of his career--a bomb that traveled 231 feet, 7 inches. (See Hankins throw 231-7 at the 2018 JenJav Festival)

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Project Javelin Gold

For the past two years, Hankins has been part of the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation's Project Javelin Gold, a group that aims to support promising young U.S. javelin throwers in hopes they can develop into Olympic-caliber athletes.

Former Olathe North standout and 2017 KSHSAA Class 6A state champion Dana Baker, who is now at Duke University, was a past member of Project Javelin Gold. Andale High School sophomore Katelyn Fairchild, who is No. 2 in Kansas this season, is a current member.

Through Project Javelin Gold, Hankins is being coached by a handful of USA and Olympic champions, among them former USA record holder Tom PukstysPan American gold medalist Duncan Atwood, and German Thomas Rohler, who won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Rohler has a career best of 93.90 meters, which is just a touch over 308 feet. That's the third best throw in the history of the event.

The project also gives Hankins an opportunity to meet some of the other top high school throwers, including a pair from Oregon: Hampton, currently No. 2 in the US, and Portland Central Catholic's Joseph Nizich, currently the No. 4 thrower in the country.

"Every few months, we get together in say, Arizona or Louisiana and we train together," Hankins said. "We have a lot of fun. We get some form down and we do a lot of training. It's really helpful. We're always competing for that No. 1 spot (in the U.S.)."

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 Competing With a Heavy Heart

This season will be very different for Hankins, even if he wins his third straight Class 6A state title. In January, his coach at Manhattan over the previous two years, Tom Brosius, passed away after a nearly 10-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Known in college as "Ferocious Brosius," he was an All-American shot put and discus thrower at Kansas State University in 1972. He still holds the Maryland all-class high school record in the shot put (64-6.5), set in 1968, while his discus record (184-10) held until 1999. Brosius had coached Kansas high school athletes in Pleasanton, Concordia and Manhattan, as well as Cloud County Community College.

Brosius also played football at K-State.

Hankins and Brosius had a special bond, but that is woefully understating it.

Brosius was a man of impeccable integrity, equally adept at showing kindness to his athletes as he was in picking out every little detail of the javelin throw. Every kid had a special place in his heart, whether they could launch the javelin like Hankins or not.

 "It's hard for me to talk about," said Hankins, his voice cracking. "I don't really want to talk about it much...he was an amazing dude. I loved him a lot. He was an incredible coach and he was one of the guys who had a tremendous impact on my life.

 "Can I text you the rest?"

I told him of course he could.

 "Coach Brosius had one of the largest impacts on my life," Hankins later said. "He shaped me as a person and critiqued me as an athlete. He always told me on every throw, whether good or bad, that it could use some work. So every time I throw or think I had a good throw, I remember what he would say and remember it can always use work and that there is always room for improvement. I looked up to him and now I strive to be the person he was."

Brosius passed away on January 11, 2019. Four days before, Hankins was at his house to give him his award as the 2018 Kansas Assistant Track and Field Coach of the Year, presented by the Kansas Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association.

Brosius was nominated for the award by current Manhattan head coach Kory Cool.

Manhattan javelin coach Tom Brosius (left) with Sam Hankins.

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A Dominating Season

Despite the loss of his beloved coach, Hankins' season has gone well. Current coach Ryan Small--one of his coaches in middle school--has overseen the junior's progress, which includes wins at the Texas Relays, the Shocker Pre-State Classic, the Kansas Relays and last week's Howard Wood South Dakota Relays.

Now heading into the championship portion of the season, his focus is on helping his team defend the KSHSAA Class 6A state championship.

"The first thing I am thinking is that we need to get ready as a team," he said. "We need to be prepared. We need to get the mentality now that we need to be prepared to compete.

"On a personal level," he added, "I need to be throwing farther. I'm definitely thinking 230 this year. It's in me, it's there. I've thrown it in practice and I've hit that mark before. It's definitely coming this season. I won't be surprised if I can get it."

Hankins thinks the state record of 238 feet is within his reach--this year or next. That relentless pursuit of bigger goals keeps him motivated even when he's so far ahead of the rest of the competition in Kansas.

"I have to focus on myself versus the tape measure," he said. "I want better marks. I want to throw better than my personal best. I want to push the limits of what I can do."

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More to Come

Hankins will head right into a summer season after this year's state championships. He has competitions at New Balance Nationals Outdoor in North Carolina and the USA Track and Field Junior National Championships in Florida on his schedule.

If all goes well, he should find himself a spot on the USA Junior team for the Pan-American Junior Games in Costa Rica at the end of July.

"Longer term, I want to make it to the Olympics," said Hankins, thinking 2024 or 2028 could "be a possibility. If I keep pushing myself and staying motivated, I would not count it out of the picture."

He's been visiting colleges, looking ahead to the Fall of 2020, but he's not yet ready to give any clues to where he could be headed. "But I'm very excited about the next level."

He is grounded not only in academics but also in his family. He says that his Mom and Dad--Bonnie Rush and Kevin Hankins--"are amazing parents."

Along with his sister, Jamie, a sophomore at the University of Kansas, "they support me so much and they push me to get better."

Hankins said other family members, coaches and friends are important to him and are crucial in his success.

"There are a lot of people who are always there for support. I couldn't ask for anything better."