By Grant Wall
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Zac Brouilette took the road less traveled to success. Originally intended to play football at Iowa State, he found his footing not on the gridiron, but as a thrower on the Cyclone track team.
“He still wanted to be an athlete and to throw,” Iowa State track and field coach Cory Ihmels said. “He was someone who had great potential coming out of high school. He bought into the vision the coaches had that he could be great. He is an example of a kid who came here, walked on and did a great job. He’s seeing the fruits of his labor.”
Brouilette has seen his stock rise, culminating in a 12th place finish in the 35-pound weight throw at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in March. He punched his ticket to the NCAA Championships with a school record 68’-3 1/4” throw at the qualifying meet.
“He’s someone who has gone from good to great,” Ihmels said. “He has put a lot of time and effort in. When Dagata (throwing coach) got here, he laid the groundwork for what it would take for Zac to be successful. He bought in from the beginning. They didn’t take any shortcuts and it was slow, steady progress.
“Without Zac’s ability to buy in and work as hard as he did, I don’t think you would have seen the success you have seen from him.”
That inner drive is what has propelled Brouilette.
He was raw when he got to Ames, having thrown some in high school. As a football player, he had spent plenty of time in the weight room and had all the tools to become a great thrower. He just needed a little guidance.
“He was very inexperienced,” Dagata said. “The first thing we needed to do was to throw a lot. We wanted to get as much experience as we could. His strength and athleticism were special, but he hadn’t thrown very much. He didn’t have experience throwing, but he had that experience in the weight room and working out. What we wanted to do was highlight the things he was good at and made sure we worked on the things he wasn’t as prepared in.”
Brouilette had a personal best of 53’-7 3/4” in the weight throw after last season, but there was room for improvement. Dagata designed a program for the thrower to follow over the offseason, but faced the challenge of his pupil heading across the country.
A health and human performance major, he landed an internship with Louisville’s football program as a strength and conditioning coach. While the internship was tremendous experience, it also did not - on paper - allow him very much time to train. Between morning and afternoon workout sessions he conducted for the Louisville players, Brouilette managed time to work on his own game.
“I gave him a program to do, but he put his own twist on it to fit what he was able to do,” Dagata said. “He took it and worked incredibly hard. When we saw him come back from the summer, we knew he was going to be good. He really used the opportunity he had to his advantage.”
His hard work paid off. He tossed a 65’-4 3/4" mark in the weight throw at the Husker Invitational, and then bettered it with a 68’-3 1/4" throw to finish in tenth place at the Big 12 Indoor Championships. His school record won the NCAA qualifying event.
“Every summer the kids who really made a commitment, those are the ones who have their season made,” Dagata said.
Along with his own dedication, it was the workman-like attitude of the coaching staff that saw Brouilette come into his own this spring.
“He bought into the system,” Ihmels said. “You don’t have to be around Coach Dagata’s practices for long to know there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm there. They don’t cut corners. It’s like going to the factory. You show up in the morning, do your work and don’t leave until it’s done. That’s the mentality.”
With the indoor season over, outdoor track and field is just around the corner. The work put in for the indoor season has Dagata confident there is more success to come.
“He is going to do well because he is prepared,” Dagata said. “He’s going back and making sure everything is in its place, so when he goes to call on his body it is all there for him. We still have a lot of work to do for the outdoor season, but I expect big things and he expects big things."