By David Willis
---- — Mark Zavrl wasn’t even competing on Saturday due to a minor elbow issue. But that didn’t mean the Andover High senior wasn’t the talk of the Andover Boosters Meet.
“Did you see the throw Zavrl had?” gushed one area coach.
When you rank among the nation’s best, people are bound to take notice.
Two weeks ago, Zavrl shattered the Andover High modern record in the javelin when he recorded a stunning throw of 193-8 at the Weston Twilight Invitational.
“After a throw I always listen for the officials to call out (the distance),” said Zavrl. “The guy kind of mumbled so I couldn’t hear him. Then Coach (Peter) Comeau yelled out ‘190-what!?’ The guy responded 193 and I was just wowed because that is a huge mark.”
The throw marked the longest in New England this spring — well ahead of Lowell star Colin Hoey (179-9 at the same meet) — and the sixth best in the country in 2013. The leader is Hunter Stelly of Louisiana (206-9).
The Golden Warrior’s previous career-best was a school record 181-8 last season.
“This is a huge accomplishment because people just don’t throw the javelin that far in New England,” said Andover throwing coach Art McDermott. “The weather makes it tough to get loose and really throw long. But this throw is going to get him a lot of attention. Very few people have ever thrown 200 feet in New England, and I think he could do it. And he has done all of this coming back from his knee injury.”
The record-setting throw was the latest victory in Zavrl’s now eight-month road back from a torn MCL and PCL. The talented linebacker/record-setting kicker (10 career field goals, 3 of 40 yards or longer) hurt his right knee four games into his senior football season.
“I think the injury has made Mark an every stronger competitor, and he really treasures his opportunities now because he was devastated by that injury,” said Warriors head track coach Peter Comeau. “Two months ago he was barely walking, and now he is setting records.
“He is very serious about track now, and when Mark gets serious about something, he becomes great. We saw it in football, and now we are seeing it in track.”
Football was supposed to be Zavrl’s crowing achievement at Andover High.
After two standout seasons as a linebacker-kicker, Zavrl looked to be destined for All-Scholars honors through three games last spring, making 43 tackles, booting two field goals and in spot duty at running back rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
But that all came to a crashing halt during a Week 4 victory over Xaverian.
“I was playing running back,” said Zavrl. “I planted funny and was tackled weird. The next day we went to the doctor and I had an MRI. That’s when I found out I had a torn MCL and PCL.”
Initially, he struggled to accept the reality that his career as a Golden Warrior was over, even after undergoing surgery two weeks later.
“It took a while for it to really sink in,” he said. “I didn’t want to accept that I would never play on the (Lovely Field) turf again because I knew how hard I had worked. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I was so excited for a big senior year. It was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with mentally.”
Instead of turning his back on his teammates, Zavrl became a fixture on the sidelines, first in a wheelchair then on crutches, barking out encouragement and instructions.
But the work to rehab for his knee was just beginning.
“I couldn’t walk at all until Thanksgiving when I could hobble around a little,” said Zavrl, who also sat out winter track.
“Around Christmas I could walk more comfortably, but I couldn’t do anything like play basketball until a few weeks ago. I still can’t really cut much and feel a little unsteady.”
Doctors finally cleared him to return to sports last month, and Zavrl set his eyes on writing a new final chapter of his athletic career at Andover.
“I don’t want to sit around and think about what could have been in football,” he said. “It’s still hard sometimes. I have to take crossovers and a big step (in the javelin) and my knee is still wobbly. I was not expecting that throw (on Saturday). I fouled my first throw. But the second one felt great.”
With his record-breaking accomplishments, it would be easy to forget that Zavrl did not even touch a javelin until last spring.
He played baseball as a freshman and lacrosse as a sophomore while sprinting and throwing the shot put in indoor track. Zavrl discovered the event by mistake.
“I was looking for another throwing event and (football teammate) Joey Comeau was doing javelin so I figured, why not try it and have some fun hanging out with him,” said the 6-2, 215-pounder. “The javelin looked like fun, like throwing a spear. In my first meet I beat my opponent by about 30 or 40 feet and just said, ‘Wow. Maybe I could do something in this.’”
Zavrl took off from there, taking fourth at New Englands and earning Eagle-Tribune All-Star honors last fall. But even that did not prepare him for the success this spring.
Comeau, for one, believes the sky is the limit.
“Mark loves the competition and nothing gets him frazzled,” said the coach.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he threw over 200 feet, and I can see him winning the national title. The (193-8) throw has already earned him an invitation to the (top) division of the nationals. That’s something only people like Moira Cronin, Christopher McConnell and Mark Vetere have accomplished.”
Zavrl’s focus will return to football once track ends. He will be playing a post-grad year at Phillips Exeter with the hopes of playing college football. But he wants to finish off his Golden Warrior career with a special statement.
“I may not be on the turf, but at least I am next to it,” he said.
“I’ve been waiting for the chance to return to competition. I want to leave Andover on a good note.”