Rob Muzzio hardly even remembers it anymore, that unspectacular day last January when Robinson Track Coach Maynard Heins, watching his state champion discus man shuffling around in the gym, suddenly had an idea.
"Our No. 1 hurdler had gotten hurt and I didn't really have anybody else," Heins said. "We were fooling around in the gym, and on the spur of the moment I said to Rob, 'Hey, go over that hurdle.' And as soon as he went over it, I knew. He just did it so naturally, I knew."
That seemingly insignificant moment was the most important of Muzzio's high school career. He now has a dream that has taken on Olympic proportions and will likely dominate his life for the next 10 years. From then on, Muzzio was a decathlete. He had a goal that almost surpassed his desire to repeat as Virginia state discus champion--becoming proficient in the decathlon.
But not even Heins was ready for what Muzzio did earlier this month in Bloomington, Ind.
Muzzio took off earlier for The Athletics Congress national junior championships in Bloomington with his gold medal from the state track meet safely stashed away. He wanted badly to make a good showing before he began training regularly in the decathlon at George Mason in the fall.
But in only his second decathlon competition and after only occasional training, he did better than that. In fact, he won the title, holding off a challenge with his fastest performance ever, by more than 30 seconds, in the last event, the 1500 meters.
"I'm going to take it as far as I can go with it, to the NCAAs and then the Olympics if I can," said Muzzio, whose performance in Bloomington qualified him for the Pan-Am Junior Games in July.
"The biggest asset he has, and something you can't teach an athlete, is that he's a competitor," Heins said.
By choosing to accept a track scholarship to nearby George Mason in the fall, Muzzio, an all-Met linebacker, passed over offers to play football at Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and a slew of other nationally recognized schools.
He hasn't regretted it for a minute. Physically, he readily asserts, he is a top prospect. But mentally, he's just a little lacking in the craziness department.
"To play (football) in college, you have to be obsessed, thinking about football all the time and wanting it so bad nothing else is important at all," he said. "But I'm not like that."
Now that it's all over, he finds it a little easier to put everything in perspective. His participation in athletics now seems more important for the background it gave him than for the actual winning and losing.
He looks at the last four years at 4,000-student Robinson High School as a lesson in dealing with people and coping with success.
"It was all fun, but that's really all it was, was fun," Muzzio said. "The things I bring away from my time there are probably more important than what I did there."
Still, it's going to be tough for Muzzio to forget football. Especially that game against Chantilly, when the ball was rolling loose at his feet in the end zone after a punt and all he could think was "Ohmygosh, ohmygosh." Finally, he jumped on it--and scored a touchdown.
"I loved football--I mean, really loved it, the physical head-to-head, one-on-one, team-on-team competition," Muzzio said. "But I think I'll go further in track."
In his four years at Robinson, Muzzio never got the chance to sit back and savor his accomplishments. There was always something else to do.
For instance, he didn't know he had won his first state discus title as a junior almost until the very moment he received the first-place medal.
When the discus landed 185 feet 7 inches from where he stood, Muzzio was off across the field, sprinting to the starting blocks for the high hurdles. He didn't find out how long his throw was until half an hour later.
"I was always the only one hurt in high school because I was the only one who had to go off and do something else. In the decathlon, everybody will be tired, not just me, and I'll have the advantage because I just love to compete."
The question of favored treatment because of his success never came up at Robinson, Muzzio said. "I don't place myself above people and certainly none of my teachers did. I like to look right at people. I don't like telling people what I've done."