Long before new college students take their first final exams comes the sometimes abrupt lesson of time management required for academic survival.
Add another activity to the course load and the challenge becomes greater.
Add yet another activity, and you have Austin Lufkin’s schedule as a freshman student-athlete at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The Clifton resident and Brewer High School graduate played saw some duty last fall on a Wofford football team that went 10-3 and reached the Football Championship Series national quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion North Dakota State.
He’s also a thrower on the Terriers’ track-and-field teams, earning All-Southern Conference honors in the shot put during the indoor season and already breaking the school record in the discus outdoors this spring.
“He has done a great job balancing academics, track and football,” said Mike Wilson, an assistant track-and-field coach at Wofford, whose responsibilities include the throwing events. “Even with our indoor conference championship falling during football spring practices Austin came out and placed third in the shot put.”
Lufkin, who is considering a finance or accounting major, is enjoying the busy schedule.
“Everybody wants the best for you, your coaches and teammates, because we’re all working for the same goals, but at the same time there’s a lot of constant competition and it pushes you to be better.”
Lufkin arrived at the 1,700-student college with an impressive high school athletic resume, with highlights including setting a state record and winning New England indoor (2017) and outdoor (2016) championships in the shot put and being the recipient of the Frank J. Gaziano Award as the state’s best defensive lineman in football as a senior.
He earned a spot on Wofford’s football roster last fall and saw some duty on the defensive front and special teams before a knee injury slowed his progress with the Terriers, though he returned to action in time to play on Wofford’s field-goal block team during postseason play.
“The big adjustment was to the speed of the game, and it’s not that the kids are so much faster but it’s how much faster the game is played, how much faster the ball is handed off, how much faster the lineman’s getting on you and things like that,” the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Lufkin said.
“But you get used to it and you learn to react faster. My biggest issue right now is I just need to playing with my hands a little better, and once I do that I’ll definitely be a contributor on the team.”
Lufkin’s two-sport path collided in February when he participated in indoor track as well as spring football, where he and his teammates were introduced to a new coaching staff led by former University of Pittsburgh defensive coordinator and one-time Wofford assistant Josh Conklin, hired to replace recently retired Terriers head coach Mike Ayers.
“Spring ball went really well,” Lufkin said. “Our new defensive line coach had us working crazy hard every day. He said he was taking us to the deep water so that when we get into a game and aren’t able to come out that we can push through it.
“Through the season I gained leaps and bounds from where I was in high school, and then spring ball definitely solidified that and has gotten me ready to play. I think I’ll get at least decent reps when the season comes around.”
But first comes outdoor track, which got off to a strong start for Lufkin in mid-March with his school-record toss of 50.74 meters in the discus at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte 49er Classic.
Lufkin is competing in both the discus and the shot put, with both projectiles heavier at the collegiate level than they were in high school — the college shot put is 16 pounds compared to 12 pounds in high school while the college discus is 2.0 kilograms compared to 1.6 kilograms in high school.
“Austin has adjusted well to throwing in college,” Wilson said. “I think the level of competition has forced him to work harder and really improve his technique. He knows now what it takes to compete at the national level and is working hard to get there.
“He is continuing to adjust to the heavier implements. With him being a dual-sport athlete he wasn’t able to get the work in during the preseason that many other freshmen throwers get, but even with having less time to train he has adjusted better than expected in the shot put and discus.”
Lufkin ranks second in the Southern Conference in the discus entering a meet this weekend at the University of South Carolina and is close to qualifying for the NCAA regional championships in that event.
“With a few meets left, we are working hard to make that goal a reality,” Wilson said.
And as Lufkin continues to blend his throwing workouts with football-oriented strength training, he grows more and more enamored with the Division I experience.
“Everybody that I had heard from that went on to play college sports said it was a lot different and that it wasn’t like the team environment that high school was, but in my experience it really is,” he said.
“I’m having a great time, making some good friends. I get to go home when I can and I have a good time there but at the same time I’m getting accustomed to life down here.”
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