On the long trip last winter from Bridgeton to New York for the indoor national championships, there was one topic of conversation for Bulldogs junior Braheme Days and his weight-throwing coach, Ray Wilks.
It wasn't the weather or politics or girls or music or food.
It was weight throwing.
"We were just joking about this," said Wilks, a Bridgeton graduate and former All-American thrower at the University of Connecticut. "It was a 21/2-hour ride, and it was 21/2 hours of talking about throwing. That's Braheme."
Days might look like an athlete who relies on brute strength for his success. He's 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, with explosive power.
But his coaches say that Days relies on his brains as much as his brawn. He's a cerebral shot-putter.
"He's such a student of the game," Bridgeton head coach Warren DeShields said. "When he and Coach Wilks get to talking about the nuances of throwing, it amazes me. I listen to those guys break it down and I'm like, wow."
Days' burgeoning reputation as perhaps the nation's top young weight thrower will have him in the spotlight this weekend at the Penn Relays.
Days looms as the favorite to win the high school shot-put championship, set for 2:30 p.m. Friday.
"The Penn Relays is huge," Days said on Saturday, after setting a meet record in the shot put with a throw of 66 feet, 1/4 inch at the Woodbury Relays. "The Penn Relays has such a nice vibe. To be able to compete at a meet like that, it's going to be a great experience."
Days has made remarkable improvement over the last two seasons. When he was a freshman at Cherry Hill East, his best effort in the shot put was 44 feet. At the Eastern States championships at the Armory in New York in late February, Days won with a throw of 70-8 - the best in the country during the indoor season.
"He's the best shot-putter in the U.S. right now," DeShields said.
Days attributes his improvement to Wilks' coaching, plus a greater understanding of the sport.
"I've worked at it and worked at it," Days said. "If you shoot a million free throws, you're going to get pretty good at shooting free throws."
Days, who transferred to Bridgeton before his sophomore year, said he does a lot of video study of his own performances, and those of other top throwers.
"He's just intrigued by it all," Wilks said. "He studies on a consistent basis. He's intrigued by how it all works, by how it is that you can get a shot put or a discus to go farther. He's intrigued by how you can get more torque."
Although Days is devoted to his sport, he says he tries not to get caught up in his own success.
"You need to separate yourself from your collection of work," Days said. "I spend more time thinking of myself as a normal high school kid than focusing on what I've accomplished."
Days acknowledges that he's "set up" to do well at the Penn Relays after a sensational indoor season and a strong start to the outdoor season. He won the indoor Group 2 title with a throw of 69-2, and captured the Meet of Champions with a throw of 67-83/4 before breaking the 70-foot barrier at the Eastern States championships.
DeShields said shot-putters usually add about five feet to their best indoor throws by the end of the outdoor season. If that happens for Days, he could challenge former Morristown great Nick Vena's state record of 75-103/4.
Days said he doesn't focus on distance.
"My goal is to win," Days said. "I'm a competitor, and I like to win championships. The distances will take care of themselves."