By Kyle Daubs

With basketball season over, Sam Bradbury decided to make a change. 

For years, the Mattoon High School senior had thought basketball was going to be his sport of choice after high school. The travel involved with AAU tournaments clogged up his schedule for playing a spring sport.

“My focus was on basketball and preparing myself to play college basketball, said Bradbury. “This included going to AAU tournaments. A lot of the tournaments overlapped with track, so I had to pick one.”

In his first and only track season in high school, Bradbury has impressed.

That included winning the Tolono Unity Sectional in the shot put with a heave just over 51 feet, which qualified him for the state meet. It also impressed Eastern Illinois University enough to offer him a spot on the track team, which is where he will compete next year.

Bradbury had also received offers to join both EIU, Western Illinois and Indiana State football teams as a preferred walk-on after having played his senior season on the Green Wave offensive line.

While the success has felt natural, Bradbury said he has enjoyed the people more.

“I think he would definitely be a asset to any of their programs, said MHS boys track coach Jarad Kimbro, who also coached Bradbury during football season. “Unfortunately for all of them, he committed to the EIU Track program last week.”

Bradbury, though, has quickly connected more strongly with track.

“I have definitely enjoyed it,” said Bradbury. “It’s been so much fun, riding on the bus to and from track meets, competitions, and the new friendships that were built because of track. I am very fortunate to have good coaches and teammates who push me to do better and not the bare minimum.”

At the beginning of the season, Bradbury was winning meets during indoor season with throws in the 40s. That was when he knew he could have a special season. 

“In seventh and eighth grade, I had gone to state for shot put and discus,” said Bradbury. “I guess it all started there, really, getting into my high school track season. I knew I could do better. That’s when I really started to work at it.”

He was the Apollo Conference champion in the shot put with a throw over 50 feet. At the Sectional, Bradbury had his best throw of the season with a heave of 51-0.25. The throw put Bradbury eighth on the IHSA Class 2A leaderboard, while his Sectional throw had him ranked fifth among all state qualifiers.

“My goals for state are to place,” said Bradbury. “What place exactly, doesn’t matter. I want to end up better than everyone expected I would do, better than I was seeded. My furthest throw has been 51 feet. If I want to meet my high expectations, I need to be throwing mid 52s.”

Bradbury has looked at the seeds and has started to mentally prepare. He said it is something his mom and him have done all season. On meet days, his mom would wake him up early to show who was seeded higher and talk about what needed to be done in order to beat them.

“If he does what he is capable of doing,” Kimbro said, “I believe he will be on the podium on Saturday.”

Bradbury has come a long way for someone who originally told Kimbro he was only going to compete in track to stay in shape.

“Sam has improved leaps and bounds from the beginning of the season,” Kimbro said. “He has worked extremely hard with Dakota Spencer to improve his technique and maximize his potential. He is very excited about the opportunity that he has Friday at the state meet.”

“Without me communicating with people, I don’t think I would be doing as well in track,” said Bradbury. “Yes, I might be getting new PRs but the grind itself wouldn’t be possible without the motivation to do better than the next. I told coach Kimbro I would be doing track just to stay in shape, then suddenly I found a place in my heart for it. I thank myself for seeing a future in track and field. I’ve had so much fun this season and enjoyed the atmosphere of a track team.”