Accidental Javelinist

The Citadel’s Capers Williamson is among the top javelin throwers in the nation. (Paul Zoeller/Staff)

Capers Williamson’s first attempt at throwing the javelin in competition was so bad, even his coach was embarrassed.

“I hit myself in the back of the head with the javelin, and it went about 30 meters or so,” Williamson recalls. “My coach said, ‘Man, this is embarrassing. You’re gonna have to do something other than this, go high jump or something, or you’ll be off the team.’”

“That lit a fire under my butt.”

Three years later, Williamson — a Citadel graduate student and former tight end on the Bulldogs’ football team — is one of the best collegiate javelin throwers in the nation. His latest effort of 231 feet, five inches (70.55 meters) is a Citadel and Southern Conference record, and ranks 20th in the nation in Division I this year.

That effort would have placed eighth in the NCAA outdoor championships last year. Williamson needs to finish in the top 12 in the NCAA East Region to make the NCAA championships this season, a goal that’s barely eluded him the last two years.

“I know I can do it,” Williamson said. “It’s just a matter of doing it when they call your name.”

At 6-foot-7 and about 235 pounds, Williamson has the perfect frame for throwing the javelin, a spear that’s about eight feet long.

“His arms are such long levers,” said Citadel assistant track coach Kris Kut, who himself was a record-setting javelin thrower at The Citadel. “And being 6-7 gives him a huge advantage in that aspect. With those long arms, he’s able to do a really long pull and create that separation between the hips and arms.”

And yet, Williamson found the sport he was born to do by accident, one day on The Citadel’s football practice field. High school track and field in South Carolina does not include the javelin, so Williamson had never seen it done before.

“I played quarterback in high school, and baseball was my first love,” said Williamson, who went to Wade Hampton High School in Greenville. “I never even knew what a javelin was. But here at The Citadel, they had me at wide receiver and then moved me to tight end.

“I was getting thrown around like a rag doll, and I was sick of that. And then one day, one of our quarterbacks said, ‘You need to come try to throw this javelin.’ I didn’t even know what he was talking about.”

Turns out that former Wando High School quarterback Parker Gaston has an eye for talent. He had seen Williamson throw a football 60 or 70 yards in practice.

“Throwing is throwing, when you are looking for someone to teach” said Kut, who held The Citadel’s school record for 17 years and was the first Bulldog to throw 60 meters (196 feet). “Once you start teaching them how to throw a javelin, then it’s different than throwing a football or a baseball. But if you’ve got a cannon, you’ve got a cannon. And Capers has a cannon.”

For Williamson, harnessing the power of that cannon is the trick. His long arms and legs are an advantage, but also make footwork more difficult. Kut’s tutelage and countless hours of watching the world’s best on YouTube videos have paid off. So did competing with teammate Clay Allen, a former SoCon champ himself.

“YouTube has been like my second coach,” Williamson said. “I love watching film, and I think I got that from football, watching a lot of film and critiquing my technique. It’s like an obsessive/compulsive disorder with how much film I watch.”

And then there’s the mental side of throwing far.

“It’s like a touch pass in football,” Williamson said. “And that’s what I’m trying to work on — not going out there and trying to throw it as hard as I can, but just letting it happen. I can throw 74 or 75 meters all day long. But when they call your name, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

That’s where Williamson struggled last year at the NCAA East Regional.

“I threw two out-of-bounds at more than 70 meters, and then I chocked and threw the third one in the stands,” he said. “The year before, they took 12 to nationals, and I finished 13th. It’s really a dark cloud over my head that I really just need to break through.”

His coach thinks he will.

“When you see him throw and the way the javelin flies, you just say wow,” Kut said. “When you throw 60 meters in college, you are elite. When you hit 70, you’re among the high elite. It’s been a journey, and now that he’s reached this level, it’s so much fun. It just shows how much hard work and dedication he’s put in.”