By Susie Epp
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When Mason Finley walks through campus in Lawrence, Kan., people assume he's a member of the Kansas football team. When you're 6-8 and 320 pounds, football is the first sport that comes to mind.
However, the freshman's size and strength has led him to success in a different sport. Finley throws the shot and the discus for the Jayhawks' track team. He's the best thrower in the nation for his age group.
Finley became the national high school record holder in the discus after throwing 72.12 meters (236-6 feet) at the High Altitude Challenge in Alamosa, Colo. He won gold medals in the discus and shot put at Nike Outdoor Nationals, and then later won both events at the Pan American Junior Championships in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he set a new U.S.A. juniors record in the discus.
His accomplishments at Buena Vista High School in Salida, Colo., led to Finley being named Track and Field News High School Male Athlete of the Year.
Finley's passion for track and field does not fall far from the family tree. His father Jared has had his own successful throwing career and was the one who initially saw his son's potential for the sport.
"If you talk to Mason's mom, she'd probably tell you I was a little obsessed with teaching Mason. I was never able to make it to the Olympics myself because of the politics in college," said Jared. "I had some vengeance in me to develop a better discus thrower than myself."
Jared, a prison housing sergeant who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., was an accomplished high school thrower. He won the Kansas state championship in the discus for Wyandotte High School and still holds a top 10 record in the state of Kansas. He competed at the University of Wyoming and carried his passion into teaching his son.
Mason was in fifth grade when his father handed him his first discus: a homemade instrument that consisted of two Frisbees glued back-to-back and filled with sand.
"I showed him how to throw it off his hand and said, 'Give this a toss and see what happens,'" Jared said. "It went way across the street and I thought, 'Well, I guess it is time to start showing him how to throw.'"
Mason grew to love tossing weighted objects and the connection it created with his father.
"I like throwing the best because of the bonding time I have with my dad," said Mason. "We still talk a lot about those days growing up and my future in the sport."
Jared coached Mason through junior high and high school. They worked year-round and competed in track clubs around the country. When Mason was not in his high school track and field season, his father pushed him to maintain his throwing schedule.
"It was just a father-son thing," said Jared. "Instead of taking your kid fishing, we were out at the ring. He's worked hard to get where he is."
The hard work paid off. Mason surpassed his father's marks when he was a sophomore in high school. Soon after, the two met Andy Kokhanovsky, the Division II national champion, 1996 Olympic competitor in the discus and the throws coach at KU.
"We met Andy and that's when I knew that he could develop him a lot further than I ever would be able to," Jared said.
Mason and Kokhanovsky worked together and eventually developed a strong relationship. When it came time for Mason to choose a college, he took that relationship into consideration.
"Coming to Kansas is pretty far away from home," Mason said. "But I wanted to come here because I liked Andy."
So far, Kokhanovsky has been impressed with Mason's skills and work ethic.
"He's doing really well because he is working hard and has been putting in a lot of time in the weight room," Kokhanovsky said. "We have been teaching him a new form that should help him improve and take his throwing to the next level."
In the first track meet of the 2009-10 season, Mason threw 19.10 meters (62-08.00 ft.), which provisionally qualified him for the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
Although the younger Finley is now under the guidance of Kokhanovsky, his father is still an active part of his life both emotionally and athletically. Jared plans to attend the Kansas Relays and looks forward to watching Mason compete at the collegiate level.
"I've only been home once since school started, but when I was there I went out and threw with my dad just like old times," said Mason. "We will probably do that forever."