Pendleton's Sam Jennings overcame windy conditions at La Grande to throw a national-best 209-5. (Alex Wittwer/East Oregonian)
Pendleton's Sam Jennings overcame windy conditions at La Grande to throw a national-best 209-5. (Alex Wittwer/East Oregonian)

Sure, Pendleton senior javelin thrower Sam Jennings was happy to move to No. 1 in the nation last week when his first throw of the season sailed 209 feet, 5 inches in a meet at La Grande.

But according to Jennings, there is much more to come.

Coming off a breakout 2021 in which he threw 224-10 – No. 3 on the state's all-time list – Jennings has lofty aspirations for 2022. And his first throw was just an appetizer.

“The conditions of that day were terrible,” the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Jennings said. “It was a 25 mph headwind. So I just stood there on my first throw and waited for the wind to stop.

“My next two throws, the wind didn't stop, and I wasn't able to get it out there. I'm just waiting for a good day of weather to really pop one off. In La Grande, I wasn't playing on throwing because of the wind, but I had to get a mark in the books.”

Considering Jennings is consistently pushing 220 feet in practice, it's just a matter of time before he uncorks a big throw in a meet, says Pendleton coach Larry Brizendine.

“We're hoping he can throw closer to 215, 220,” Brizendine said of Jennings, who has signed with Brigham Young. “Once we get into some nice weather, I think he's going to get up there, hopefully in the 220s and maybe even 230.

“He's just a natural. It look so easy when he does it. He just tosses it and it just takes off out of his hand, and it gets up in the stratosphere. It's really impressive.”

Jennings threw 181-7 as a freshman, just off the state freshman record of 185-8 (Ryan Crouser, Barlow, 2008), before the COVID crisis wiped out his sophomore season.

He got back on track as a junior, improving to 198-11 in late April and winning the season-ending 5A meet at 190-0. He eclipsed the 200 mark at club meets in June, going 207-10, and had designs on a national title when he entered The Outdoor Nationals at Hayward Field in early July.

But Jennings threw only 189-10 and finished a disappointing seventh. He cited lack of preparation.

“That was the worst track meet I had all year,” he said. “I didn't know what to do in the days leading up, and I wasn't prepared mentally, either. So going into a big stadium, with a big crowd, threw me off.

“I didn't know where to start my approach. We didn't get enough warm-up time, so I wasn't used to that. It was like 9 o'clock at night when I threw. A lot of things happened that I wasn't prepared for.”

The subpar performance festered for Jennings, who was hopeful to flush the experience the following week by competing in the USATF Oregon Association Youth Championships at Jesuit.

“On the drive home from nationals I was like, 'All right, we need to find the nearest next track meet possible for me to throw at, and that way I can know if that's how it's going to be,'” he said. “I went in and I was pretty upset. I went in wanting to prove something to myself.”

Jennings channeled that motivation and energy into an outstanding series of four throws. He hit 224-10 on his second throw and had others at 207, 215 and 217.

Jennings' training got a boost in August when he was invited to a participate in an NSAF Project Javelin Gold camp in South Dakota. He attended another one of the camps in February in Louisiana.

He said the high-level instruction at the camps not only refined his technique, but helped relieve the chronic tennis elbow that had developed from poor form.

“That's where I've learned everything so far. That's where I get the confidence from,” he said of the camps. “The amount of progression you make in that amount of time, I was so surprised. They fixed so many problems that I thought I would always have, like with my elbow, that was the biggest thing. One simple correction and that went away.”

He said the elbow issues were partially due to limited access to coaching during the COVID shutdown.

“I was developing some bad habits with my form,” he said. “My elbow is all screwed up. But I've been able to fix that over this past year a little bit in the form part.”

Jennings said he is in the best shape of his life now that he is healthy and has added strength and speed. A hip flexor issue was hindering his progress in the 100 meters, but after an adjustment at the chiropractor early this month, he is moving freely.

“His stride is correct again. He's fast,” Brizendine said of Jennings, who is Pendleton's top sprinter (11.58 in 100). “He's been working with a sprints coach, which has really helped make him faster. And now that he's a senior, he's filled out. Any of those things could help his throws.”

Jennings plans to go on a two-year Mormon mission in North Dakota before starting his college career at Brigham Young, so this season will be his last chance to make a mark for a while.

The state record of 255-4, set by Gresham's Sam Crouser in 2010, also is the national record. For now, Jennings has fixed his sights on the state's No. 2 spot of 227-7, held by the late Art Skipper (1988) of Sandy.

“That's the new goal,” Jennings said. “The first goal is to get back into the 220s. Once I do that, then high 220s, low 230s. ... I have pretty high expectations. It's only a matter of time before I hit those.”