Alan Zapalac (right) smiles with Texas assistant coach Ty Sevin at the NCAA Track and Field Championships West Preliminary at Myers Stadium on May 25, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Track & Field

Alan Zapalac — Texas’ ‘Thor’ with the hammer — looks to help Horns build on their Big 12 success

Posted May 10th, 2018

Story highlights
  • Back home in Orchard — with its population of about 350 — folks think Zapalac throws a sledgehammer in college. Thus, his nickname is "Thor."
  • The Texas men have won four of the last five Big 12 outdoor titles and are expected to contend again this week.
  • He's a senior, but Zapalac will remain at UT for the next three years as he works on his master's in architecture.

Years ago, Alan Zapalac made his own bed.

While that may seem like a customary chore for a college freshman, Zapalac literally made the bed for his 6-7, 320-pound frame. He’s also constructed all the furniture and picture frames he owns. He caught the building bug from his father, a “jack of all trades” whom the Texas senior grew up watching work on engines, tractors and cars in the tiny Houston-area town of Orchard.

Though he’s a senior, Zapalac will remain at Texas for the next three years as he works on his master’s degree in architecture. One day, he hopes to own a design firm focusing on commercial real estate or athletic facilities. If you’re wondering, Zapalac thinks UT’s Myers Stadium needs “a little TLC” and a new scoreboard before the NCAA outdoor championships it will host in 2019 and 2020.


If only Zapalac knew an athletic director who has not shied away from the topic of making changes at Texas.

“We actually go to church together, so I put a bug in his ear every now and again,” Zapalac said of Chris Del Conte.

Texas thrower Alan Zapalac competes in the discus event during the Texas Relays at Myers Stadium on March 30, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Zapalac’s hands will be put to work this week at Waco’s Clyde Hart Track & Field Stadium, the site of the Big 12’s outdoor championship. Zapalac will participate in the discus and hammer throw for a UT men’s team that’s eying its fifth conference title in six years.

Zapalac boasts the Big 12’s fourth-best heave in the hammer. He’s ranked eighth in the conference in the discus. On Wednesday, he rued his recent discus practices but was hopeful that he can still qualify for the South Central regional meet. He is, however, more confident with his abilities in the hammer.

“After (Tuesday’s) practice, I’m ready to let one go. By all means, in my mind, I’ll be at Eugene in a couple more weeks,” said Zapalac, referring to the NCAA outdoor championship.

Zapalac is coming off an indoor season in which he set a school record in the weight throw. That toss of 72 feet, 8 inches earned him All-American accolades and an eighth-place finish at the NCAA indoors. Raised in an Aggie household, Zapalac celebrated his All-American status by getting the traditional tattoo of a Longhorn on his left shoulder.

Since his All-American toss came at his first-ever appearance at an NCAA meet, some might call Zapalac a late bloomer. You can also refer to Zapalac as a Texas Cowboy — literally, since he’s been a part of that UT spirit organization since his junior year. Zapalac’s size, blonde hair and the assumption back in Orchard that he throws a sledgehammer has led to the nickname “Thor.”

Texas interim track and field coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, however, described Zapalac as a “father of the team.” He is a team captain and one of seven seniors on the men’s roster. The redshirt year he took in 2014 gives him an extra year on a team loaded with standout freshmen like Sam Worley, Micaiah Harris and Tripp Piperi.

“He’s very no-nonsense, which I like. He’s honest and he leads by example,” Buford-Bailey said. “The great thing about being a leader isn’t so much what you say, it’s what you do. I think that they have really noticed that from him.”

UT’s women claimed a conference crown during the indoor season.  (The men finished second to Texas Tech). Texas expects to contend for more hardware this weekend.

The men have won four of the conference’s past five outdoor championships with the lone slip-up a runner-up finish in 2014. The Texas women had their run of three straight conference outdoor titles thwarted by Kansas State in 2017.

Big 12 outdoor championships

Friday-Sunday, Baylor’s Clyde Hart Stadium, Waco

What to look for:

  • The Texas men have won four of the last five Big 12 outdoor crowns; the UT women have won three of the last four.
  • On the men’s side, Steele Wasik can become only the second repeat decathlon winner in Big 12 history. … Sam Worley and Alex Rogers rank 1-2 in the conference in the 1,500; Texas hasn’t won the Big 12 title in that event since 2008 (Leo Manzano). … Senior Fabian Dohmann has the Big 12’s top javelin throw so far by nearly 20 feet.
  • On the women’s side, senior hurdler Ariel Jones will try to become the first woman to win four straight 400-meter hurdles titles, though junior Mariam Abdul-Rashid holds the Big 12’s top time heading into the meet. … And keep an eye on the 100-meter hurdles; last year, UT scored 23 points in this event and Rushelle Burton, the defending champion, and the Horns rank 1-2-3 in the Big 12. … Ashtin Zamzow, who won the first penthathlon crown in UT history in February, can become the program’s first-ever titlist in the heptathlon. … Haley Crouser, who became UT’s first-ever javelin winner at the Big 12s last year, looks to defend her title.