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Herbert finds mentor in Popenfoose

Huntley senior Justin Herbert regards former Red Raiders thrower Marcus Popenfoose as inspirational and as a mentor.

As a freshman, Herbert watched Popenfoose closely. Popenfoose won the Class 3A state discus and was runner-up in the shot put.

Now, whenever Popenfoose is back in town, Herbert throws with him as often as possible.

Herbert has not yet come close to the distances Popenfoose threw, but he will emulate him in another way. Thanks to his offseason work and dedication, Herbert will throw at the NCAA Division I level next year. He committed to Eastern Illinois University for a partial scholarship to throw for the Panthers.

“Their throwing coach [Jessica Sommerfeld] knows our throwing coach [Chris Maxedon] and got in touch with him,” Herbert said. “They sounded interested and wanted me to come visit before [Christmas] break.”

Herbert (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) committed on Dec. 8 and will sign his NCAA national letter of intent in February. He has come a long way since last May, when he did not qualify for the IHSA Boys Track and Field state meet.

“I scratched on the one [discus] throw that would have qualified me,” he said. “It was a pretty tough sectional.”

Herbert is throwing up to 6 feet more than last season, in the 45- to 46-foot range, and hopes to add more to that. This spring will be his first season rotating when he throws shot put, a technique he worked on with Popenfoose during the summer.

“My shot put’s a mess right now, but I’m getting there,” Herbert said. “When Marcus is back, he always helps us. You see how calm he is, but he’s still aggressive. He’s definitely a big influence on me.”

Raiders coach Jim Rolando felt Herbert was on track for bigger throws when the high school season ended.

“He got a little bit of a later start and really progressed well,” Rolando said. “This year Justin made a big commitment to get stronger, quicker and more flexible.”

Herbert and Huntley freshman Dominic Swanson have been working out with Dominic’s father, Gary Swanson, in a large garage adjacent to the Swanson’s home. Herbert benchpressed 281 pounds, deadlifted 468 and squatted 391 for a 1,140-pound total to win the 16-17 275-pound division at the Amateur American Powerlifting Federation’s Illinois Raw Power Challenge recently.

Herbert started benching 185 for 12 repetitions six weeks ago and now is doing 215 for 12 reps.

“All this work will make a huge difference in the spring,” Rolando said.

• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.

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