Panama City, FL---Starting Friday, the state's strongest weightlifters will meet in Kissemmee for the FHSAA Championship Meet.
The state finals is the ultimate stamp of approval on a lifter's work ethic, drive, and determination. It takes most kids years to make it. But North Bay Haven freshman Gavyn Collins has become a favorite to win, in a matter of months.
Less than six months removed from his first practice session, Collins has been built tough in the Buccaneers weight room that may lack the newest amenities and open space, but gets the job done right.
"I started out man, I can't even tell you," says Collins, thinking about how far he's come in such a short time. "I saw all them (his teammates) working out with 200, 300 pounds. I didn't know I was gonna get there one day."
Gavyn picked the sport up quick, not just qualifying for State, but entering as the favorite in the 129 lb weight class in just his freshman season.
"At first I was benching 95 pounds, or something like that. And then five months from now, I'm lifting like 225 on the bench and all that, I didn't know anything about clean-and-jerk, I didn't know nothing about bench, and it's just an honor to be here. It's an honor to go to state."
Collins didn't think he could be this good this quick, but his coaches did.
"Pretty much that first day he came in the weight room, we knew this guy was gonna be really strong," said head coach Jared Hale. "He had the determination to get better, he had the drive to be here every day. He has not missed one day and he just wants to be the best he can be. That's what it takes to be a champion."
But the drive pushing Gavyn in weightlifting doesn't even involve weightlifting.
"Football. Football's my motivation for weightlifting. I was a little weakling during football and I wanted to get bigger because everyone was pushing me around. I wanted to get bigger so I'd be the one beating them up and everything."
Right now, he'll settle for beating up his competition on the bar, as he wants this trip, and three others after, to end one way only.
"State Champion all the way, man. All the way."
Gavin and two others from North Bay Haven, Jacob Silas (119 lb) and Ryan Ackerman (154) will leave for state Thursday morning.
Only in their program's second year, Hale has helped build the program from the ground up, letting their competition know they're coming.
"Before the season started, we had a goal," said Hale. "I told the guys we want to be the best team in the county, one of the best team, and they accomplished that. I mean, they've been working their butts off every single day and we beat every single team in Bay County except Arnold. So, we're just gonna get better and better from here on out."
"I've made some major gains," says Silas, a junior making his first trip to Kissemmee. When I started here I was like, real weak. But Coach Hale's got a real good program going on, the way we work out, and everyone's really getting major gains."
The 1A competition begins Friday when lifters hit the bench at 10 AM.