When Luke Smorey strides forward like he has so many times before, javelin in hand, he will be facing a familiar sight -- the field behind the grandstand at Baldwin High School's stadium, where he has practiced for much of his high school career.
But today, when he digs in his feet and prepares for his throw, it will not be in the vacuum of practice, where there are generally just the Highlanders' coaches, teammates and an occasional passer-by.
Rather, the stakes will be considerably higher as Smorey will not only be competing in the WPIAL track and field individual championships, but doing so as the favorite in the boys' Class AAA javelin competition.
"There's definitely a comfort level because I practice there every day," Smorey said. "I know the runway and I know how everything works there, so it's a little advantage of mine."
In a sport with many more intricacies than meet the eye, Smorey has proven to be something of a natural in the javelin.
His career began when Smorey was brought to his coach, Tom Damiani, his freshman year at Baldwin by Ed Helbig, one of the school's track and field coaches. Smorey came from the football team, where he primarily played quarterback, and he also had experience playing AAU baseball.
With that kind of pedigree, when he began to experiment with various field events, Smorey was naturally drawn to the javelin.
Damiani said he and other coaches could immediately tell Smorey had some ability, with the freshman proving them right in his first season, as he threw in the mid-150s and just missed out on qualifying for the WPIAL championship meet.
As time progressed, so would Smorey's javelin career.
Last season, he showed his potential for future success with strong performances at both the WPIAL and PIAA meets. Smorey placed third at the WPIAL meet and eighth at the PIAA championships.
Though the throwing motion in the javelin differs from those in football and baseball, Smorey proved to be a quick study and a natural fit for the event.
"There's a combination of size, speed, technique and explosiveness -- that's what makes a good thrower in general, and javelin is nothing different from that," said Damiani, a Baldwin graduate. "Luke is certainly growing physically, but he's always had quickness and he's always had a strong and explosive arm."
Listed around 175 pounds last year, Smorey has physically matured in his junior season, adding about 15 to 20 pounds of muscle that has helped his javelin results improve.
As a year has passed, so has Smorey's chief competition, at least locally. The two competitors who finished ahead of Smorey in the javelin at the WPIAL individual meet last season -- South Park's Billy Stanley and Elizabeth Forward's Anthony Janicki -- have both graduated, leaving an opening for Smorey to make his mark.
The main objective for Damiani is to get Smorey to qualify for the PIAA meet later this month, but at the same time, the opportunity is there for Smorey to capture the event's top prize on his home turf.
Regardless of how things play out for Smorey today, he has proven to be an apt study in an event he began a little more than two years ago. At an age when javelin success is centered around repetition, Smorey is developing strongly along a path that may lead him to greater heights.