(This story was published in the New Tampa Neighborhood News and is being reprinted with permission. Godbold’s grandparents are the late Dr. Frank Godbold and Nan Lacy Godbold, who survives and resides in South Boston.)
Wharton High’s Zach Godbold, the top-ranked high school javelin thrower in the state of Florida, has begun his schooling at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Godbold announced his commitment on May 9. He had narrowed his decision down to Florida and Florida State University in Tallahassee.
It was during a visit to Gainesville in December that Godbold says he began to lean towards becoming a Gator. He said seeing where he would be living, as well as the training facilities and new weight rooms, was impressive.
“It was as you would imagine for a Division 1 school, but it was really top-notch,” Godbold says.
Godbold has been one of the country’s top javelin throwers for his age since finishing second at the AAU Junior Olympics in 2014.
Two years later, as a 14-year-old and prior to his freshman year at Wharton, he took home the gold at the Junior Olympics.
Although the state didn’t have javelin as an official event his first two years of high school, the Florida High School Athletic Association added it as an experimental event at the state championships for Godbold’s junior season. Competing against the seven best throwers in the state across all classifications last spring, he won with a throw of 52.40 meters (171.75 feet).
Javelin was made an official event for the 2020 season, and Godbold was cutting a clear path towards winning the first state championship in the event.
He establish personal bests in back-to-back meets with throws of 54.62 meters (179 feet) on Feb. 20, and 55.15 meters (181 feet) a week later at the Wharton Invitational, the best throw in the state and third best in the U.S.
With the postseason just around the corner, Godbold was a big favorite to win gold at the state meet, but school was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was definitely upsetting,” Godbold says. “I was ranked No. 1 in the state for high school since my sophomore year, and last year was kind of not really an event. This year would be my only chance to win an actual state championship. But, I look at (the cancellation) now as motivation for the future.”
A scholarship from one of the country’s best track and field programs isn’t a bad consolation prize for Godbold, who also was a starting kicker on the Wildcats football team and starting defender on the school’s soccer team.
The U-F men’s track and field program has won nine national titles. Steve Lemke, the Gators’ associate head coach in charge of throwers, was an All-American himself in the javelin and has mentored seven Olympians, including javelin throwers Oliver Dziubak (2014) and Pal Arne Fagernes (1996, 2000).
Godbold would like to be the next one to be in that company.
“I’ve been playing soccer and football, but all my focus will be on the javelin now,” Godbold says. “The Olympics is definitely a goal.”