When Sam Mattis steps into the circle, everyone stops. Clad in East Brunswick green, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound behemoth rocks his arm, sweeps it back.
With a drop step, a spin and a lightning-quick turn, Mattis unleashes a monumental throw. With the power of the Hulk and the grace of a ballerina he twirls, and the discus races into the blue.
Mattis is a senior at East Brunswick High who has been dominating his competition for quite some time. In 2010, he set a sophomore state record by six feet with a 197-foot, 3-inch hurl, and followed that up with a year to remember.
“When I first met Sam, we talked almost immediately about his goals as an athlete and he had some pretty lofty goals,” said Mattis’ coach, David Hagan. “Hearing the way that he spoke and the way that he carried himself, there was no doubt he was going to attain those goals.”
In 2011, track and field fans from around the country got to see Mattis’ strength firsthand, technique and speed when he unleashed a 201-foot, 2-inch bomb at the Penn Relays that — despite breaking the previous meet record by 10 feet — finished second to Jamaica’s.
“I was pretty happy to get a good throw out there,” Mattis said. “It was cool to watch … but it actually helped me focus on myself and … the things that I had worked on.”
He peaked that year with a 207-foot, 2-inch throw at the New Jersey State Meet of Champions. The hurl set a junior national record and he clinched the national title just a week later.
But with Penn Relays just a few days away, Mattis will once again say hello to his new home.
In October, Mattis committed to Penn, choosing to spend the next four years in the brand new throwing, discus and hammer facility built on the former home of Penn Softball, Warren Field.
“It’s huge,” Penn coach Robin Martin said. “There are four things you sell to a thrower: Tony Tenisci, who’s an Olympic thrower … Penn, a top-10 school in the world, Penn Relays and the facilities.
“To have four years of Sam is amazing. He’s someone who might make the Olympic Trials as a high schooler.”
He is the second high profile recruit in recent years. Along with current sophomore All-American high jumper Maalik Reynolds, he will look to raise the profile of Penn.
But success hasn’t stopped Mattis from striving for the best. He works out regularly with famed former Rutgers throwing coach Tony Naclerio and drives up each week to West Point, N.Y., to work with former Olympian Knut Hjeltnes, who now coaches at Army.
“I didn’t really take a break from last year,” Mattis said. “I’m faster than I’ve ever been and stronger than I’ve been, by far. My technique is really coming along.”
Friday morning, Mattis will get his shot to win this time around. He’ll have one more chance to earn himself a Penn Relays watch and throw for the first time in the cage that he’ll soon call home.