It was the beginning of April 2019, and Connor Vass-Gal was comfortable.
Comfortable, that is, in the fact that a future as a college football player was most likely ahead for the soon-to-be all-state lineman for gridiron power Wilmington Area.
All of that changed literally in seconds on April 6, 2019, at the West Middlesex Invitational. Fresh off a PR toss days before that put him in the venerable 60-foot club but shy of a school record, the right-hander blasted the 12-pound ball 64-4.75, turning back the reigning District 10 champion, demolishing a school record set by a Penn State All-American and opening the then sophomore's eyes about his athletic future.
Less than two years later, the 6-2, 320-plus pound senior is comfortable yet again, this time that his college choice keeps him close to home and is ripe with opportunities to improve as a college thrower.
"I was looking for a coach that really could elevate my game to the next level and turn myself into a true college shot putter," Vass-Gal said of choosing to head only about 20 miles west of his New Wilmington home to Youngstown State. "It was more or less for a family atmosphere I feel with going to Youngstown State. It was definitely more of a family."
Vass-Gal got his start in track -- and football -- in seventh grade and transitioned from the glide to the spin in the shot put a year later.
"At first, it was a little bit difficult until I watched tons of videos of the best of the best back then, with Jordan Geist and Adrian Piperi when they were the top dogs (in high school)," said Vass-Gal, who also was recruited by Penn State, Baylor, Indiana and Iowa. "After I watched the videos, it was (second nature)."
A state qualifier in the shot put as a freshman after a runner-up finish in District 10, his then PR of 52-1 was the top throw for a 9th-grader in PA and No. 8 nationally.
As a sophomore, Vass-Gal improved dramatically, using his 64-4.75 heave to end the year as the best 10th-grader in the U.S. and one of only three sophomores to crack the 60-foot barrier.
"Going from freshman year to sophomore indoor season, I definitely wanted to improve and get better and try to put my name out there to college coaches at the time," Vass-Gal said of opening the 2019 indoor season with a huge improvement, hitting 58-4.5 in a meet at YSU. "I worked at it every day in the summer leading up to indoor season of my sophomore year thinking, 'I think I can do this now and compete with high-level guys. Just strive to be the best.' "
Vass-Gal did get his "name out there" with each and every one of the more than dozen big-meet performances over 60. One of those keeping tabs on Vass-Gal was YSU's new throws coach Megan Tomei, who joined Brian Gorby's staff in September 2018 and also had numerous opportunities to see the Greyhound in indoor meets at the Horizon League school.
"It definitely helps to have an athlete like Connor come in," Tomei said of her newest signee from western Pennsylvania. "I'm not huge on looking at marks. Yeah, his marks definitely help with how he will perform, but I'm way more interested in work ethic and how open he is to what I have to say and that he will mesh well with my kids.
"That means way more to me. We are all here to throw a metal ball far, but there is way more that we can get out of this opportunity than throw a metal ball far."
Vass-Gal won't be the only athlete under Tomei's direction crossing into Ohio from the Keystone state. The current YSU roster includes seven former PIAA medalists in the throws alone.
"I think that Connor has definitely a lot of great assets that will complement our team really well," Tomei said. "I'm building and growing along with the kids. If the coach stops growing, there's not much you can do.
"Connor knows a lot of my athletes really well. I think that gives him comfort, too."
Tomei added that Vass-Gal will bring something to major college track and field that mostly is genetic.
"His size definitely helps, and you can't teach size," Tomei said. "It's not something you can coach. At Division I, it helps to have that size.
"Weight room numbers are significant in throwing. Technique and the way you apply that force is where I can come into play. His size helps in the recruiting process, too, and makes for an easier transition."
Before he suits up for the Penguins, Vass-Gal has some unfinished business in a Wilmington Area uniform. The cancellation of the 2020 outdoor season wiped away Vass-Gal's opportunity to strike gold in the always competitive Class AA in the District 10 and PIAA meets and erase the memory of numerous runner-up finishes in those shot competitions.
"It's definitely disappointing," Vass-Gal said of his near-misses in the end-of-year meets. "I knew I could have potentially won a state championship my sophomore year. It started at the district meet. It didn't go my way."
As for his goals as a collegian, Vass-Gal has some specifics in mind already.
"Coming in as a true freshman, (I want to hit) 18 meters (59-0.75) as a freshman," said Vass-Gal, who is PA#1 and US#2 indoors this year. "Hopefully contend for a Horizon League championship and try to qualify for NCAAs.
"Lucky for me, I have been very fortunate to throw the 16-pounder over the years. The change is definite. You have to think about the little details in throwing the 16. It can throw you off in a heartbeat."