Woonsocket High senior Connor Fugere, shown heaving the shot put during a recent meet at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house, accepted a track scholarship late last month to Northeastern University. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
WOONSOCKET â A tremendous weight has been lifted from Connor Fugereâs broad and strapping shoulders.
The Woonsocket High senior is viewed as one of the best on the Rhode Island track and field circuit at heaving objects such as the shot put, 25-pound weight throw, and hammer a very long way. His appearance on the U.S. High School Weight Throw Performance List that was released last Wednesday backs up such a claim.
Given the specifics of Fugereâs craft, it seems appropriate to link the early-morning summer training sessions spent under the guiding hand of Marc Piette with the rite of passage that every 12th grader with designs of attending college goes through.
At a time when seniors anxiously await âyeaâ or ânayâ decisions from the admissions department, Fugere is completely worry-free regarding his post-graduation plans.
His future became secure shortly before Christmas when the 17-year-old accepted a track scholarship to Northeastern University. The only item of business remaining is to sign a national letter of intent, which Fugere plans to take care of when the calendar officially flips to February.
What has all the trappings of a happy ending, that of a youngster learning that the college he had his heart set on attending reciprocated in kind, Fugere can now look back at the countless hours he spent chiseling his physique and honing his throwing techniques and reflect on what a ride it was.
âYou hear about kids who are recruited. Colleges say they want you. They throw out a number and either you accept, decline or negotiate. Itâs not that simple, at least with track it isnât. Youâve got to make yourself known,â Fugere explained during a recent respite from practice at Saravia Gymnasium. âI knew I loved Northeastern out of all the colleges I talked to. I didnât go deep in the process with the other schools because I knew I wanted to go there.
âItâs a lot of head games. We got to the point where we ready to be done with the process. Itâs a little bit draining on the family,â Fugere continued.
In essence, all of Fugereâs eggs were placed in one basket. What was going to make or break his decision to become a Husky boiled down to one crucial piece: The scholarship package submitted by the Boston-based school.
âThe weeks leading up to the numbers were more stressful. My parents and I felt, âWhat happens if they donât throw out a number I like?â Northeastern was the only college I pursued to the fullest extent. If everything falls through, Iâm in trouble,â was Fugereâs rationale as he looked back at a situation that along some levels is no different than his classmates waiting for response letters.
After a few days of deliberating, the brother of former Woonsocket High girlsâ basketball standout Kailey Fugere (Class of 2012) felt comfortable enough to end his college search.
âWe were happy with the offer and decided to accept,â smiled Connor Fugere.
âConnor is a fantastic kid. I just canât speak enough about him,â said Piette, both the head coach of the Woonsocketâs girlsâ indoor track program and mentor to Novan throwers of both genders.
A self-described competitive person who even takes board games seriously, Fugereâs first foray into Woonsocket high school athletics could be considered reflective of the mindset of todayâs culture. He played freshman basketball before going out for outdoor track, the only reason he did so was to stay in shape for hoops.
He sought to become a sprinter, a vision that quickly faded after an unsuccessful bid to keep pace with Jalen Evans, the former Novan sprinter. George Briggs, the longtime Woonsocket High track and cross-country mentor, saw Fugere as a better fit as a âfieldâ participant as opposed to a âtrackster.â
âCoach Briggs, being the nice guy he is, didnât want to tell me how bad I was. He said, âYou look like a discus thrower,ââ Fugere recalled.
Reporting to Piette, Fugere recalls his eyes growing wide as he watched a Novan teammate unleash the hammer. Instantly, he fell in love with the biggest draws being the power and torque needed in order to hurl the object up to the heavens.
On pure raw ability, Fugere placed third in the hammer and fifth in the shot put at the 2011 ninth-grade outdoor state meet.
âFrom that point, I wanted to continue,â says Fugere about waiving goodbye to basketball and hello in earnest to track.
Fugere described his sophomore year as âa heavy learning year.â Becoming accustomed to the glide technique thatâs commonly used by shot-put throwers â the process begins with the implement held high and stresses nimble and timely footwork â proved a tough barrier to break through, not to mention test his patience.
For much of the indoor and outdoor seasons, Fugere was producing results similar to his freshman outdoor campaign. No matter how hard he worked, he felt as if he was stuck in neutral.
âI was trying to reach 40 feet, but I couldnât to save my life,â said Fugere.
The roadblock that proved just as mentally draining as physically was smashed at a most opportune time. At the 2012 Northern Division Championships, held at Ponaganset High, Fugere âcame out of nowhereâ to unleash a 43-foot toss.
âI had never done that in practice, it just happened,â stated a beaming Fugere.
To actually see proof that it is possible to reach what had been previously been unobtainable, it helped blaze a trail for Fugere. Armed with a âcan doâ spirit, he began training in earnest, and thatâs where Pietteâs experience and knowledge as a high-school thrower proved most handy.
The tendency is to say âweight throwerâ and follow with âwasnât he a lineman on the football team?â Fair or not, they are perceived as bigger fellows.
Such a description does not fit Fugere. When he started as a freshman, he was 5-foot-9 and maybe 150 pounds âsoaking wet.â He hasnât grown much in three years â presently heâs 5-10 â but heâs also no longer supported by the same frame that he worked with when he first became enamored with the shot put and hammer.
To Piette, Fugere had to become technically sound before he could even think about adding muscle. Along similar lines, hours upon hours were spent during the summer heading into Fugereâs junior year with one specific goal in mind.
Endurance is best achieved through repetition. Pretty soon, 50-throw practices with the sun beating down didnât seem like such a chore.
âIâve gotten to the point where I donât get dizzy any more,â Fugere says.
âIâve spent more time with him than my own kids. Itâs almost become a father-son relationship more than coach-athlete,â expressed Piette, a field performer himself at Woonsocket High (Class of 2000).
Fugere began lifting weights more frequently on the eve of the 2012-13 indoor season. Around that same time, he began warming up to the idea that how he fares when he steps in the circle could lead to a spot on a college team.
âI said to myself, âIf Iâm going to get recruited, I have to get serious,ââ said Fugere.
Last summer was a testament to just that. The summer job that entailed working at a Massachusetts pool store was replaced with meeting Piette at Woonsocket High at 7:30 in the morning.
âWe did power lifts that I had never heard before,â said Fugere about the meat grinder he was put through.
The schedule mapped out by Piette was precise and exact. At roughly 10:15, the coach and pupil would head outdoors to throw.
âI started monitoring my diet, two protein shakes a day. Luckily, I put on 15 pounds of muscle,â Fugere said. âIâm still the same size as last year, but I toned it out.â
The question is, would the combination of persistence and aptness pay off for Fugere in the fashion he so desired?
Fugere considers him fortunate that he was able to brush up against national competition after finishing sixth in both the hammer throw and shot put at the 2013 R.I. outdoor state track meet. He placed third in the hammer at the USATF National Championships and ninth in the same discipline at the Junior Olympic Championships.
With Fugereâs name officially out there, college coaches began taking a strong interest. URI, the University of Albany and even a few Ivy League schools approached him. In essence, it all boiled down to Northeastern, his top choice.
Fugere took his official visit in mid-October. Northeastern presented an offer in early December. Looking to enroll in the engineering program and minor in business management, Fugere felt everything was playing out accordingly.
âHeâs a very mature kid,â Briggs pointed out.
Heâs also a bright kid who early in his high-school career impressed the Woonsocket coaching staff to the point that Fugere became the first Novan sophomore to be named captain of the indoor squad. A member of the National Honor Society, Fugere is ranked seventh in his class.
Even though everything is just about set as far as college goes, Fugere made it quite clear that heâs not about to kick back and ride the scholarship wave until itâs time to bid adieu to Woonsocket High.
His indoor season is shaping up to be a memorable one. At the URI Invitational earlier this month, Fugere voted MVP for field events after winning both the shot put (51 feet, 8 inches) and the 25-pound weight throw (61-9.5). Two weekends ago at the East Coast Invitational held in Providence, Fugere placed fourth in the weight with a personal-best throw of 63-9.5 inches. For good measure, he was second in the shot with a toss of 51-7.
If he needs any additional motivation with the state meet less than a month away â he placed second in the shot put (52-2) at the last yearâs Rhode Island-wide gathering â all he has to do is look at the banner in Woonsocket Highâs gym that honors sister Kailey as the 2012 R.I. Girlsâ Basketball Gatorade Player of the Year.
âI donât want to be content. Thatâs not the kind of person I am,â said Fugere. âI want to get better and hopefully I will.â
Come the outdoor season, Fugere will compete in the shot put, weight throw, hammer and discus.
âHe doesnât concentrate on one thing. He does them all and heâs good at everything,â Piette said.
As for Fugereâs favorite event? Itâs the hammer for one simple reason: âItâs the most satisfying. If you can throw the hammer âŠ the explosion, the delivery, it feels cool and looks cool. Thereâs just something about it.â
Something, as in the door opened for Fugere to compete at the collegiate level.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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