Senior Kyle McKelvey always thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps onto the football field when he got to college. And for most of his life, the Beresford, S.D., native didn’t stray too far from that path.
But with four years as a thrower for the University of South Dakota’s track and field team, he’s found his calling with a shot put, not the pigskin.
Come this weekend, McKelvey and senior teammate Cody Snyder will be in Fargo, N.D., competing in the indoor championship at the top of the Summit League in the shot put.
Pending championship results aside, the senior is leaving behind an indoor season for the record books — quite literally. McKelvey and Snyder have gone back and forth throughout the season breaking university, state and Summit League records.
“It’s pretty cool to realize that we rewrote the record books,” McKelvey said. “It’s one thing to leave your mark at USD, but it’s another to know we raised the standard for USD throwers that’ll follow us.”
The senior is redshirting his outdoor season, so he will be back to compete one more year for USD, but his current results are not going unnoticed.
McKelvey earned his second career Summit League Men’s Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Week honor earlier this month. It is the second one he was selected for this season.
The senior found athletic success at an early age, earning the state shot put title as a sophomore in high school. He would later take second in the shot put at the Pan American Junior Athletics Championships in July 2011. Outside of track and field, he earned three all-conference honors on the football team as a four-year starter and two all-conference honors on the basketball court.
His throws, which have reached more than 63 feet, are approaching what is seen at the professional level. But McKelvey’s transition from high school standout to potential world-class competitor required a feat in the classroom, not just in strength.
McKelvey and his coaches agree that when he discovered his desire to study kinesiology and sports science, the difference was seen not just in his enthusiasm as a student, but in increased self-awareness as a student-athlete.
Throwing coach Tyler Custis calls it “the switch” that turns on when coaches observe an athlete beginning to explore their surroundings and comprehending how it makes them a top-level competitor. This is something he said he has witnessed from McKelvey.
“He’s a really good student of his body. Not many college athletes know and understand how to get their body what it needs to give their best performance,” Custis said.
One example of this is McKelvey’s thorough warm-up regimen at competitions. He begins about an hour and half before meets with three strict phases to get him to the intensity he wants to compete.
“My warm-up has gotten more scheduled, but I’ve changed my attitude a lot. I used to walk around, jump up and down and not talk to anyone,” he said. “Now, I sprawl out, relax and talk to the other throwers. I’m focused, and I get to where I need to be, but I don’t psyche myself out anymore.”
Five years ago, Andrea Cota, USD’s human performance specialist for the track team, said she was in a similar situation to McKelvey. As a former collegiate sprinter and jumper, Cota wanted to have a career that would help other athletes reach their full potential.
She is doing that now with McKelvey — as a coach and a professional mentor.
“Kyle does all the little things we stress to the kids. He’s in the weight room forever, because he’s stretching and doing exercises for injury prevention,” she said. “I think his coursework is helping him see why the little things matter… I’m excited to see what he does with the shot put and without.”
McKelvey wants to take more of a coaching role once the outdoor track and field season begins, which he will be able to as a redshirt. He said he plans to work more with younger throwers, especially on technique.
The optimal goal for the senior would be to compete on the international throwing circuit, which is largely based in Europe. But if he does not get the opportunity, McKelvey said he has no doubt about his future — he’d like to work with athletes to improve their performance.
“I had a coach that played a huge role in my career. They got me an education — really. They got me here,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything more I could do for other athletes than help them get an education.”
(Photo: Senior thrower Kyle McKelvey was named Summit League Men’s Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Week for the second time earlier this month. Maggie Malathip / The Volante)