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Wilhoite trading his pads for a discus
North Hall High’s Peyton Wilhoite practices the discuss throw Tuesday afternoon at the school’s track. Wilhoite has decided against playing football in college and pursue a track and field scholarship at Ole Miss.

Peyton Wilhoite and his father, Jim, are attached at the hip once track and field practice begins each afternoon at North Hall High. It’s a routine they’ve got down to a science.

Wilhoite, a senior discus thrower for the Trojans, takes to the throws circle with a collection of about a half dozen discus at his right hand side. Meanwhile, his father walks out about 175 feet from the toe board to retrieve the throws with a plastic crate.

“He shags ’em all out there for me,” Peyton said.

They try to keep the schedule as familiar as possible. Footwork practice comes first; getting the steps down for this highly technical event takes up the majority of the time. Then it’s on to the inside of the track — the same spot where Peyton once ran between the tackles during football practice — for 15-30 throws to see how he’s progressing.

“Peyton still has the desire to be a part of a team, so this works out ideally for him,” Jim said.

Throwing the discus is not just some sport thrown on to the tail end of the school year for Peyton before he graduates later in the spring; it’s his future. He plans to continue throwing in college at the University of Mississippi.

Peyton, who carries a 4.25 GPA, will go to Ole Miss next fall without any athletic scholarship money, but will have about one-third of his out-of-state tuition taken care of by academic scholarships.

What really attracted Peyton to Ole Miss was the fact that he will be on a level playing field with a roster loaded with young throwers. He’s been told by its assistant track coach, Erin Wibbels, they plan to carry five throwers.

“We visited Ole Miss, and Peyton fell in love with it there,” Jim said.

So, he decided to go against the grain. He turned his back on an opportunity to play college football in favor of pursuing the less glamorous track and field career.

During his senior season as a running back/linebacker with the Trojans, Peyton tallied 852 rushing yards and 101 tackles and earned a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy. However, he had to be brutally honest with himself: he didn’t love football with the passion that it would take to make it a priority at the next level.

At the same time, he started to notice that he had a knack for studying the discus and pursuing a state title this season.

“I knew that I didn’t have the love for football to keep me going,” Peyton said. “In college, football is like a full-time job.”

However, from football, Peyton gained many of the characteristics he says translate nicely into throwing, including work ethic, physical conditioning and a winning mentality.

He also works with Brent Noon, a three-time All-American at the University of Georgia, and Trojans volunteer coach Scott Goetz to learn the nuance that it takes to become a college-caliber thrower.

“This is such a technical event,” Goetz said. “But he is a great student and does what he needs to in order to succeed.”

Still, Peyton’s new commitment to track surprised some.

At school, he was constantly asked which college he was going to sign with to play football. But as he reviewed his options, he decided that the right opportunity just wasn’t on the table.

“Looking back on things, Peyton didn’t love football,” Jim said. “He’s not the kind of kid that sits around and watches football on television on the weekends.

“I’m glad he didn’t get an offer from a big school to play, because he would have looked like a fool to turn it down.”

Once Peyton made up his mind that he’d played his last down of football, he completely threw himself into the discus, which he placed third in at the state meet last season.

One week after football ended this year, Peyton and his father started their ritual at the North Hall track, working on the throwing motion. Peyton would throw and Jim would retrieve. It’s a process they’ve repeated “thousands of times”, Peyton said.

However, getting maximum distance on a throw is far more complicated than just seeing how many times this five-pound disc can be heaved. It’s a meticulous footwork drill to ensure proper speed and balance through the circle.

“It’s working on the same two steps thousands of times,” Peyton said. “The drills are boring, but they pay off when you see it working.”

Goetz and North Hall track and field coach Joe Bradshaw agree that Peyton’s football background paid dividends with learning to focus on the detail involved.

“Throwing the discus is like twisting a rubber band as tight as you can, then letting it go,” Goetz said. “The faster you can move your feet, the better.

“You have to start the motion circular and then make it linear.”

Last year, both coaches saw that Peyton’s devotion to the sport was starting to kick in. Late in the season, his put up a new school record (140-7) the week before the Region 7-AAA meet, a 148 at region (second behind eventual state champion Daniel Drummond of Flowery Branch), and then his best throw of 159-11 at the Georgia Olympics.

Peyton stumbled onto the athletic opportunity at Ole Miss when he found out his friend, Jackson Coker, was going for a visit to see the school. Now the two are going to be roommates next year in Oxford, Miss.

When Peyton arrives at Ole Miss, they plan to diversify his throws into three disciplines: the hammer, weight and the discus. Right now, Peyton’s only knowledge of the hammer (a shot put on a chain with a handle attached) and the weight (a 35-pound ball attached to a short chain) is through watching videos on YouTube.

“I’m real excited about the new events,” Peyton said. “It’s great to try something new.”

Still, one goal remains for Peyton’s high school career: a state title in the discus. He’s seen steady progress this season that makes that goal seem attainable, even sporadically breaking 170 on practice throws. In a meet, his longest throw was a 160-10 at Collins Hill two weeks ago.

Still, technique is the main goal for Peyton.

“There’s so many minute details involved in a throw,” he said, “that separate a 130-foot throw from a 170-foot throw.”

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