Robert Morris track and field star Chris Carper looks every bit like a championship athlete. Tall and muscular, one could easily peg Carper as the accomplished javelin thrower who has rewritten the Colonials record book.
Carper is headed to the NCAA track and field championships this week in Eugene, Ore., after winning the javelin competition at the East Region preliminaries last month in Jacksonville, Fla.
Carper, who is quiet and shy, almost seems uncomfortable talking about his athletic success.
"Well, I don't really think about it," Carper, a senior, said when asked about the records he has set in his time at Robert Morris.
Carper holds the school record in javelin with a mark of 239 feet, 9 inches. In fact, all 10 of the javelin throws listed in the Robert Morris record book have Carper's name next to them.
His biggest accomplishment was when he became the first athlete in school history to claim an individual title at the NCAA regional meet in Jacksonville.
Carper unleashed his personal-best throw on his very first attempt of the competition, then held on to best a field that included four of the top-10 throwers in the country.
"I honestly didn't think it went [more than 226 feet]," Carper said. "I threw it and was like, 'Oh, that felt good, try harder the next time,' but I looked at the scoreboard and 'PR' [personal record]. It felt good, so hopefully, I can carry that into nationals."
Raised in Altoona, Carper dominated the javelin in the PIAA after picking up the event his sophomore year at Altoona High School. According to dyestat.com, which compiles national high school track marks, he owned the farthest throw in Pennsylvania by more than 7 feet his senior year and climbed to the fifth spot nationally.
Carper likely would have been welcomed by any of the major track and field programs across the country, but decided to stay close to home at a school with a more tight-knit, small-town feel.
"I wasn't much of a big-school kid," Carper said. "I'm shy, keep to myself. I just wanted something small, not too far away from home, but not right up the street from home."
Robert Morris assistant coach Nash Oven, who oversees throwing events and intermediate hurdles, said Robert Morris' position outside of the spotlight of major Division I competition helped to increase Carper's comfort level with the program.
"I think the feel of the university fit," Oven said. "He's from a small town and I don't think the expectations here were that he had to go out there and be that All-American athlete from day one."
The time to develop at a smaller school likely paid off. Carper failed to duplicate his high school personal best in his first two years at Robert Morris.
It was his junior campaign that proved to be the breakout season Carper and his coaches were waiting for. He increased his personal best to 2321/2 feet and became the first male in program history to qualify for the national championships after finishing 12th at the East preliminaries. He finished 19th last year at the national meet.
This year, Carper returns to Eugene as the top overall seed in the javelin with a realistic chance of walking away with a national championship.
"The expectation, for me, would be for him to better his position from last year," Oven said. "I would love to see him come away with some hardware, and as long as he does what he's been doing over the past handful of weeks, he's going to come out of this meet very happy."
The meet will be Wednesday-Saturday, with the javelin preliminary and final rounds on the final day of competition.
No matter how his final collegiate meet plays out, Carper said no athletic experience can top the relationships he has built at Robert Morris.
"I'm going to miss everybody," he said. "With all the throws and everything, no PR is really going to beat the friends that I've made here."
Alex Nieves: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @alexdnieves5.