Fifteen offensive linemen were named to the 2017 Associated Press All-America teams.
Eleven of them threw shot put in high school.
This is no mere coincidence, as an astonishing number of elite football linemen competed in track and field throwing events like shot put or discus during their high school days.
Linemen are, by their nature, big people. That means that most of them (save for a select few) won’t be competing in the 4×100 Relay or 100-Meter Dash. While those events are more in line with the body types and natural athleticism of defensive backs or wide receivers, an event like the shot put is a perfect fit for linemen.
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Jonathan Ogden, widely regarded as one of the greatest tackles in NFL history, once dreamed of being an Olympic shot putter. He played both sports at UCLA, and he actually saw the shot put to be the greater test of his athleticism. “I think that more (true) athletes throw the shot put,” Ogden told the Daily Bruin in 1996. “I don’t think that all offensive linemen could throw the shot put …but I think a big shot putter could play football.” The footwork, power and functional strength Ogden built inside the throwing ring helped him become an immovable force on the football field.
Tracking Football, a scouting service that stresses the value of multi-sport athletes in football recruiting, writes that “the ability to throw the shot put is a great indicator of short area power and footwork. Typically shot put ability transfers over well to the football field, particularly for linemen and linebackers.”
If you’ve never actually watched a shot put competition, the finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics will give you a good idea of what it takes to be successful in the sport. These guys are behemoths with the feet of ballet dancers:
You don’t have to be a biomechanist to see how those movements can translate to the trenches.
For one, the shot put requires the ability to transfer an entire body’s worth of strength and power into one explosive movement. Is that really so different from how a lineman must fire out of his stance and deliver a bone-rattling punch? Both in the shot put and on the line of scrimmage, if you only leverage the strength of your upper-body in the movement, your results will be subpar.
“Many times it’s not so much the strength in the arms,” University of Wyoming head football coach Craig Bohl, who’s recruited several linemen with shot putting backgrounds, told Trib.com. “It’s the lower-body explosion.” Shot put teaches athletes how to effectively transfer energy throughout the chain of their body, a skill that directly translates to the physicality of being a lineman.
Joe Thomas is a perfect example. The 10-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle still holds the school record in the shot put at Brookfield Central High School (Brookfield, Wisconsin), and he was an All-Big Ten shot putter at Wisconsin.
Thomas has never been the strongest dude in terms of weight room strength—he once referred to himself as “one of the weakest offensive linemen in the NFL”—yet he engulfs defenders and imposes his will like few others. That’s because he possesses extraordinary functional strength, a skill that he undoubtedly built in large part inside the shot put ring.
“It’s really not about weight-room strength. It’s more about the position you can get your body in to be strong,” Thomas said at a 2015 press conference. “You’ll see guys getting beat in the NFL in general on the offensive line just because their feet are out of place. Your strength and power come from where your feet are.”
Which leads me to my next point—technique. Excelling in the shot put requires a tremendous amount of technique and precise footwork, as does excelling as a football lineman. Missing a particular step by even a fraction of an inch can result in a blown assignment or take feet of your throw. Shot putting helps develop that much-needed connection between brain and feet that’s essential to strong offensive line play.
Then you get all the other benefits that come along with being a multi-sport athlete. Not only will adding a second or third sport to your repertoire likely make you a superior overall athlete, but it will make you much more attractive to college coaches.
“I think you should play multiple sports,” Urban Meyer said at a 2016 press conference. “My son plays baseball (and) football, and I always like the athletes that play more than one sport.”
Then there’s the extra competitiveness and self-confidence that can be built by playing an additional sport. There’s nothing wrong with team sports like football, but playing an individual-focused sport (such as the shot put) can help an athlete better learn to take ownership of their performance.
“Single-sport specialization amongst youth today is troubling,” All-Pro NFL defensive end J.J. Watt, who threw shot put in addition to playing football, basketball and baseball in high school, tweeted in 2015. “Let kids be kids (and play multiple sports). They’ll become better all-around athletes (and) have more fun.”
If you’re a football lineman wondering if you should play a sport this spring, look no further than the shot put. The athleticism, skills and mindset shot put builds efficiently translate to the gridiron, and who knows—maybe you’ll wind up being even better at it than your “main sport” of football.