CLEMSON, S.C. – Imagine this: you have just entered the Holiday Inn with your wife and two small daughters after a long day of travelling. You’re tired from driving your drab, yet family-friendly Dodge Grand Caravan all day. You think to yourself, as you walk up to the counter of the hotel, that if you hear one more Hannah Montana song with your two daughters singing screechy backup that you’ll implode.
Just as you begin wondering what the thread count is of the mattress you’ll pass out on momentarily, you hear bellowing that sounds eerily similar to deep guttural voice of the great Andre the Giant:
“BREAK IT DOWN!”
You realize that you’re not yet dreaming. Anyways you haven’t had a WrestleMania dream in 20 years. And no, Andre the Giant hasn’t risen from the dead and there isn’t a roped off wrestling ring hidden somewhere. That voice you heard was none other than that of fifth-year shot-putter Austin Droogsma, challenging a team of hungry Seminole track stars, arms locked forming a circle around him, to “ROCK”. And they rock, rock, rock as they prepare for the battle to be waged over the course of the three-day ACC Indoor Championships.
Ask Droogsma what his mantra is as an up-and-coming star of the shot put and he’ll shrug his shoulders and respond with it being all about balance. No, not the balance required of these very large athletes as they gracefully pirouette like star figure skaters all the while nestling a 16-pound ball of steel inside a circle. No, he means the balance between being Austin Droogsma the shot-putter and Austin Droogsma the man (or more accurately, the very big man).
You see, with Droogs, there’s a switch and if he flips it one way, you’ll see the guy that throws over 20 meters and is currently ranked fourth in the nation and who, with one throw, can intimidate the living bajeezus out the competition.
But if he flips the switch the other way, he’s just your typical FSU student that also happens to moonlight as a bouncer where, with one glance, he can intimidate the living bajeezus out of rowdy college freshmen. When asked what’s easier to throw, an 18-year-old or a shot put, he laughed and said 18-year-olds were more fun to throw (out), but they do often try to avoid being thrown, unlike the shot-put.
He’s a guy who enjoys yoga, and who believes, after some careful deliberation, that tennis player grunts can’t compete with the war cry grunts of shot-putters.
He’s also a guy who feels totally comfortable riding around on a tiny motor scooter, while onlookers nervously guffaw and try to sneak pictures at the staggering sight. He likens the scooter he drives to walking around carrying a tiny Chihuahua and still having total confidence.
But whoever he chooses to be at any given time, you can rest assured he’s doing it with a smile. It’s a smile that could easily be mistaken for someone who has never experienced an ounce of adversity on their respective road to the top. But looks can be deceiving and Droogs has had his fair share hardship.
Make no mistake, Droogsma’s path to being a national contender and ACC favorite hasn’t been the yellow brick road that others are fortunate enough to skip and giggle along on their way to glory. He scoffed when recounting his debut in the Garnet & Gold.
“You look at my starting point,” Droogsma said. “My very first throw as a FSU athlete was 14.94 [meters]. It hurts me to say it…But I ended that season throwing 17-mid.” And from then on, he trusted the process – a process laid out for him by Coach Dorian Scott and nurtured by the friendly competition of the tightly knit FSU throws family. Sure, there’s been major setbacks, including an injury in 2016 that sidelined him from competition, but that clear vision and belief persisted. All those times where the shot fell short, Droogs walked away from the circle with a lesson and a fire in his belly.
Never one to brag, he attributes his successes to those around him and the culture cultivated within the throws group. In fact, it was hard to get him to talk about himself at all after he began singing the praises of each teammate as if he had watched them from the time they had thrown their very first javelin, or shot, or discus, until now.
It’s a group where if you were to walk past their practice at the right time, you might see a spontaneous dance party break out to the rhythm of Caribbean music. Or you might happen by while they try their hand at block starts, channeling their inner sprinter. But when they get inside the throwing circle and they’re about to hurl large metal objects, they’re all business. And when Droogs steps gingerly into the throwing circle at ACCs, there’s no doubt that the laughing and smiles will be gone – at least for a little while.
“All it takes is one throw,” he said, referring to how open the shot competition really is despite his dominance so far. “I’m training like the competition is throwing a half-meter farther than me.”
It’s that tenacity that’s carried him to where he is right now – on the verge of something special. And it’s not just something special for him, but for the whole team, as he fits as an integral piece to the puzzle to go after not only an ACC team championship title, but also a push to make the team podium at NCAA Nationals. Austin Droogsma is ranked No. 4 in the nation right now, but it seems the No. 6 ranking that the men’s team has is significantly more meaningful to him.
So if you happen to mosey on into the same hotel the Seminoles are staying, don’t be afraid if you hear a whole bunch of shouting and clapping. It’s probably just Droogsma leading “The Rock.”
You see, the person who leads the ritualistic Rock the night before competition has always been the inarguable leader of the team. Markindey Sineus, who previous led The Rock, passed the torch to Droogsma when he graduated. And though I suspect Droogsma’s intensity may frighten some of the more-frail distance girls, he commands The Rock like no other.
In case, you’re wondering, he won’t disclose who will lead The Rock next. We’ll just have to wait and see. So for now, let’s hear it Droogsma:
Who Are We?
Who Are We?
And What Do We Do?
What Do We Do?
F-L-O-R-I-D-A…S-T-A-T-E…Florida State, Florida State, Florida State…Woo!