Texas thrower Adrian Piperi prepares to compete in the shot put during the NCAA track and field championships on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ shorter Piperi sizes up his shot put title, Olympic hopes

Posted June 6th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Tripp Piperi is shorter than most shot putters at 6-0, but atones for it with great speed in the ring and terrific leverage and extension.
  • Piperi becomes the fourth Longhorn to win an indoor or outdoor shot put championship in the last six years.
  • "Clearly Tripp's a gifted guy," said Zeb Sion, Texas' first-year throwers coach under Edrick Floreal.

Tripp Piperi isn’t your normal, every-day shot put thrower.

He’s much shorter at 6-foot than most in his field, much, much shorter than 6-8 former Longhorn and Olympic gold medalist Ryan Crouser.

He’s got a football-caliber vertical leap of 37 inches but hasn’t played football since his sophomore year at The Woodlands.

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He contemplated leaving Texas after last season during the coaching change but stayed, worked out without a coach all summer and still drastically improved, losing at the World Junior Games in Finland by a single centimeter.

Oh, and as of Wednesday night, he’s the new 2019 national champion.

The last description defines the Longhorn sophomore best. After he uncorked a personal-best throw of 69 feet, 3 1/4 inches at Mike A. Myers Stadium, the young man who won state his last three years beat Georgia’s Denzel Comenentia by well over a foot.

He was beaming, acting crazy and prancing all over the stadium.

“Why not?” Piperi said Thursday. “The feeling was amazing. Me, Trevor, Steffin and Sam told each other we’ve got to get out on the first day, leave our mark and make sure everybody knows who Texas is.”

While javelin thrower Trevor Danielson and long jumper Steffin McCarter didn’t score in their events, Sam Worley advanced to the 1500-meter final.

And everyone’s known about Piperi for a while now, including his Thursday morning child and adolescent care class when the sheepish Piperi was introduced as a national champion. Not that that is unusual at Texas.

Piperi becomes the fourth Longhorn to win an indoor or outdoor shot put championship in the last six years. He’s the latest in a long line of greats, including two Longhorn Olympic gold medalists in Crouser and Michelle Carter.

“That means a lot,” Piperi said. “There have been some amazing throwers at Texas. I’m not going to lie. When I compete, I’m pretty much a man possessed.”

He started throwing the shot when he was 8. He gave up football when he didn’t enjoy playing in the line all that much or at fullback, a position that he said “doesn’t really exist any more.”

So he found his way in track and field. Despite being shorter than most shot putters, he compensates with a lot of speed in the ring to generate as much extension and leverage as possible. Thick thighs on his 6-foot, 285-pound frame contribute lightly. He’s done so well that his latest throw moves him to seventh best in the United State and 17th in the world.

He keeps up with Crouser, a two-time national champion for Texas who trains in California, but doesn’t “want to get in his hair” and bug him. The two did compete against each other in a California meet, and both scored personal bests with Crouser clearing 74 feet and Piperi topping 68.

“Ryan’s like 7 foot,” Piperi said. “I’m looking up to him.”

Literally and figuratively.

“Clearly Tripp’s a gifted guy,” said Zeb Sion, Texas’ first-year throwers coach under Edrick Floreal. “He works unbelievably hard. And he’s matured significantly.”

Matured is a relative term.

Piperi is a free-spirited, fun-loving extrovert, someone who connected instantly with Sion from the moment they met at  the 2018 NCAA indoor championships. The two bumped into each other during warmups, chatted a bit, and before his first throw in competition, Piperi winked at Sion, who winked back. Kindred spirits and all.

Piperi admits he contemplated leaving for another school but was comforted by Floreal’s dedication to the job, compassion for the athletes and his choice of assistant coaches.

Sion, who coached 11 All-Americans in two years at Stanford after competing in a couple of NCAA shot put championships for Georgia Tech, and Piperi yank on each other’s chain in a way that keeps them grounded.

“He’s funny, quick and real sarcastic,” Sion said. “He’s a character. Our personalities mesh well. We always take small jabs at each other, but it’s always respectful.”

They relate well enough that Sion ribbed Piperi about the possibility Tripp’s younger brother, Patrick, might opt to take his shot putting skills elsewhere than Austin.

It was much more difficult task than both imagined. Patrick strongly considered Arkansas and Houston and nearly became a Razorback until Tripp intervened.

Good thing.

“Yeah, if we would have lost him,” Sion cracked, “Tripp would have been in trouble for not doing his job.”

Fortunately, he came through and the family line was not interrupted even though their dad was a one-time walk-on football player at Houston. The shot put legacy at Texas continues, but Sion knows for millennials, it’s mostly about what have you done lately.

“It definitely can help,” Sion said, “but recruits want to know what you’re doing now. Continuing the legacy is more important than what’s happened in the past. It’s our charge to keep that going.”

For Piperi, that would mean a trip to the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Only three make the U.S. team, and he’s not even conceding a spot to Crouser.

“I fully believe I can make the team,” he said. “I will never concede to anybody. If you don’t go in with confidence and believe you’ll win, you will not win.”

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