By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Jared Connor will admit his ego gets the best of him from time to time.
He doesn’t like to follow directions. Especially if those directions are to settle for anything less than better.
That ego almost got in the way of Connor’s senior year at Lemon Bay High School.
“There’s part of me that always says I have to push through everything and that if I don’t push I won’t get better,” he said.
Connor pushed too hard one day, about three weeks after having surgery on a torn meniscus in a knee. While working out for the upcoming football season, Connor did the unthinkable.
He re-tore the meniscus.
“A lot was going through my mind,” Connor said. “I was supposed to be a returning starter on varsity. I was trying to figure out what would happen with my last season of football in high school and my last season of weightlifting.”
This was in February of 2015.
In the 15 months since then, Connor not only competed in football and weightlifting at a high level, but was the area’s best lifter in 2016, placing second in the 219-pound class at the 1A state championships.
For that result, Connor is the Sun’s All-Area weightlifter of the year.
And he did all that without having surgery on the meniscus.
“He must have an amazing threshold for pain,” Lemon Bay weightlifting coach Don Southwell said. “There were some days I could see it in his eyes that the practice was killing him. He never stopped going for his goals, and giving his best at getting there.”
After a few postponements, Connor decided to wait until both football and weightlifting season were over before going back under the knife. He finally repaired the knee on May 9.
Each stride on the football field, each clean and jerk in weightlifting, even every time he walked in the hallways of at school could have been a devastating blow for the senior.
“It was exciting watching my body push through it, and go to different levels injured,” Connor said. “It was pretty amazing for people around me to watch. But it was pretty scary because one bad movement, or one bad step, and I could tear something else and there goes my whole career.”
Whether it’s due to the stubbornness that comes with his ego, or pure strength, or maybe a combination of both, Connor’s recovery time won’t be too long.
The typical rehabilitation period for a torn meniscus is two to three months. Because of the conditioning Connor has put himself through over the previous 15 months, his knee has somehow strengthened around the weak ligament, leading to only two weeks of physical therapy.
“I know he was in a great deal of pain, but he just persevered,” Connor’s mother, Althea, said. “It just shows you what he’s done over the last two years. Every single competition, he put his heart out there. He accomplished his goal. It was a good feeling, and I’m glad he was able to achieve his goal.”
When Connor finished in 11th place at the 2015 state meet, he immediately set a goal for himself. He wanted to reach the podium in 2016.
He not only made the podium this year, but took home a silver medal with a total of 665 pounds, five pounds shy of gold.
It was a result that didn’t surprise his mother, who’d watched her son lift weights since he was 12.
“We had a membership at the Y here in Englewood,” she said. “They had a special program for the kids where if he went in and learned how to use the machines safely, they would allow him to utilize the machines without a parent being there. He went through it for a few weeks, and at the end they tested him, and he was given use of the weights independently.
“I think that’s what really sparked it for him.”
But it wasn’t until his freshman year at Lemon Bay where he really took it seriously. Connor entered high school at 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds. Four years later, he’d grown two inches and gained 30 pounds of muscle.
And Connor isn’t done with weightlifting just yet.
He’ll attend Florida Gulf Coast University next year, where he plans to join their powerlifting team. It’s a sport with a slight variation of what he’s been doing in high school, so he’ll get some help from an old friend: Anthony Marinola, who won a pair of state championships in his time at Lemon Bay.
North Port – Junior – 119 pounds
In his first year competing, Jen collected a district and regional championship on the way to a seventh-place finish at state. He lifted a total of 375 at state, which was just five pounds shy of the medal stand.
Lemon Bay – Sophomore – 139 pounds
Was 20 pounds shy of reaching the medal stand in his sophomore year with a total of 445 pounds. Lydic won both district and regional championships in a breakout season.
Charlotte – Senior – 139 pounds
Totaled 475 in the state meet to place eighth, but his 225-pound clean and jerk tied a school record for 139-pounders. He was a district and regional champion as a senior.
Lemon Bay – Junior – 154 pounds
Became a two-time state qualifier when he backed up his district championship with a title at regionals. He took home a fifth-place medal with a total of 505 pounds at states.
Charlotte – Senior – 199 pounds
Entered the state meet as the No. 4 seed, and came home with a fifth-place medal after totaling 655 pounds. He also won district and regional championships in his final season.
Port Charlotte – Senior – 219 pounds
Came up five pounds shy of the medal stand at state with a seventh-place finish. Wertz was a district champion and a regional runner-up in his final year.
Port Charlotte – Sophomore – 238 pounds
Improved from 640 to 675 pounds between the district and regional championships, both of which were good enough for gold. He took home a sixth-place medal at state.
Charlotte – Senior – Heavyweight
His 670 pounds at the district championship was more than anyone at the meet lifted. He followed that with a regional silver medal, and placed eighth at the state meet.
Charlotte: Malik Arscott, Cainyn Cooper
Lemon Bay: Zach Pellicciotti
North Port: Kawika Barnes
Port Charlotte: Joseph Lopez