Photo by Christine Troyke
Eli Mahaley grew up playing football and never imagined he would one day be a state champion in another sport.
The Dacula senior was a two-year starter on the Falcons' football squad, helping the team to back-to-back playoff berths. He was an all-county selection at defensive end, but will be remembered in the Dacula record books for what he did in track and field.
The Daily Post's Field Performer of the Year turned in an outstanding year that was highlighted by the Class AAAAA discus state title.
"At the beginning of the season I wasn't sure (I could be a state champion), but at the end of the year, I started doing better and I thought it could happen," Mahaley said.
Of the 10 meets Mahaley competed in this season, he was the top discus thrower in six of them. He was second at the Gwinnett County meet and won the Region 8-AAAAA title. But he saved his best throw for the state meet. Mahaley's toss of 167 feet, 9 inches in the first flight of the discus competition was a personal record and was long enough to win the state championship.
Mahaley was also pretty good with the shot put, winning seven of the 10 events he competed in this year. He claimed the county and region titles and was fourth at state. Teammate and best friend Robert Harvey was the state champ in the shot put.
"I didn't know I could be one of the best," Mahaley said. "Coach told us pretty much those were practice meets and we wanted to be ready at region and we were."
Mahaley started throwing as a freshman after David Machovec, who is also his position coach in football, encouraged him to come out for track. Mahaley had marginal success. He was the team's second best thrower last year behind T.J. Davilmar, who was a state runner-up in the shot put and is now throwing at Houston.
With the graduation of Davilmar, that opened the door for Mahaley and Harvey to take over the throwing duties.
"It was their time. It was their year," Machovec said.
After the football season ended in November, Mahaley started training for track from December to February by lifting weights and practicing throwing techniques.
"You could tell he was hitting good marks, so it was going to be a good year in the shot put and discus," Machovec said.
Mahaley began to hit his stride in April when he started consistently throwing the discus in the 160-foot range, beginning with the Pepsi Relays in Florida. He placed third in the meet which featured some of the top throwers in the Southeast. It was also a meet that attracted college coaches.
"It showed me that I was pretty good nationally," Mahaley said. "It kind of made me realize we were better than just small-town Dacula."
As an all-county performer in football, Mahaley made 49 tackles and eight sacks and was a defensive standout in the county all-star game. He always imagined playing football in college and has attracted some interest from schools, but now the possibility of throwing in college is on the table.
"It is kind of weird, but since I'm going to college for (track), it's my sport now," Mahaley said.