At 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, Derrick Raikes was bigger than most eighth-graders and too large to play most organized sports.
"I played basketball back then, that was about it," said Raikes, 18, now the top shot putter and discus thrower for South River.
Later, he was reluctant to participate in high school sports.
"You'd see this big kid walking around the halls and you'd try to talk him into coming out for sports. But he says 'I don't want to play, or I don't know how to play,' " said South River athletic director Jim Haluck, recalling how he and football coach Dave Summey coaxed a nearly 300-pound sophomore into shoulder pads and a helmet 2 1/2 years ago.
Raikes, who recently accepted a $4,000-per-year, partial football scholarship to Bowie State University, enjoyed only limited success in his first year of football, then ventured to the wrestling mats, where he broke his leg.
"He's a real likable kid, but he was still learning not to be that way (in the athletic arena)," said Haluck. "He's grown-up now, and I think he's found himself."
In outdoor track, the 6-5, 285-pound athlete finds himself in the middle of county title chases in both the shot put and discus, but only after a summer-long Spartan training regimen.
As a junior, Raikes didn't place among the top three in either shot put or discus at the county meet. A week later, he was a Region IV runner-up in both.
"He didn't throw very well at the states because I think he was in awe, but he was just starting to get it all together," said South River assistant coach Jim Henne, who specializes in shot put and discus.
"As a big guy, he had a tendency to get off-balance on his spins. He needed to work on keeping his head up.
"So, he took a discus home with him over the summer and worked hard on getting the feel for it. He came back this year and he's just picked up where he left off."
Raikes shocked his coaches with a discus toss of 150 feet, 7 inches in the season-opening, 22-team Bulldog Relays at Montgomery County's Winston Churchill.
The feat eclipsed that of Old Mill's Brian Evans, who won last year's county meet with a distance of 144-5, and it was just over six feet short of the county meet record (156-9) set by Annapolis' Angelo Wells in 1970.
The effort also puts Raikes within striking distance of Leonardtown's Walter Bowen, who won last year's Class 3A state title with a throw of 151-10. Bowen edged Raikes for last year's discus and shot put regional crowns.
"At about the middle of last season, I didn't have that much technique, and I was still throwing better than a lot of people," said Raikes, a team co-captain.
At the Bulldog Relays, he also shattered South River's discus record (135 feet) set by Rodney Tasker two years ago.
"Discus is just so much more natural for me than the shot put, but it involves a lot of technique," said Raikes. "I can bench-press 250 pounds about 10 times, but I still need to get a little stronger."
Raikes will have to get stronger to challenge for the state shot put title. His personal best is 45 feet -- far shy of the county meet record (56-11) set by Severna Park's Bob Oleszyk in 1976.
Old Mill's Evans won last year's county meet with a shot put of 48-9, while Severna Park's John Jennings (47-5 1/4) was third. A heave of 53-6 by C. Milton Wright's Darrell Smith was good enough to win last year's Class 3A state title. Smith has graduated, but the runner-up, Linganore'sJohn Seymour (50-6 1/2), is back.
"Derrick hasn't made the dramatic improvements in the shot put that he has in the discus, but I'm sure he can get up to 50 feet," said Henne. "So far, he's consistently around 45."
In Monday's meet with Southern, Annapolis, Glen Burnieand Severna Park, Raikes -- in the absence of Coach Henne -- struggled against two contenders for the county crowns.
He was runner-up in discus to Severna Park's 5-6, 230-pound Jennings, who hurled 133 feet to Raikes' 118. Annapolis' 6-2, 220-pound Brandon Tinker won the shot put with a toss of 47 feet, followed by Jennings and Raikes.
"Without his coach there, Derrick had a horrendous day," said head coach Craig Fullmer. "He knew who Jennings was and wanted to beat him real bad. I think that's what made him nervous and threw off his technique."
Tinker, meanwhile, "is just learning the glide," said Annapolis coach Ken Goncz. "He's just doing a 45-degree turn and throwing it with brute force."
But the force to be reckoned with, said Jennings, is Raikes.
"I was a little surprised at how really strong hehas come on this year," Jennings said. "I'll have to sharpen my form, because he's gonna make things harder."