Just before her first practice with the LSU track and field team in 2010, Denise Hinton got some unexpected words from throws coach Derek Yush.
Hinton, a walk-on from Peachtree City, Georgia, just wanted to be part of the Lady Tigers’ team after a less-than-spectacular high school career as a shot putter and discus thrower.
Hinton still remembers what Yush, who immediately recognized her foot speed and athleticism, told her that steamy late-summer afternoon.
“Coach Yush said, ‘I truly believe you can be an All-American before you leave here,’ ” Hinton said. “I didn’t even know what you had to do to be an All-American.”
Yush smiled Tuesday when asked about that conversation, quickly adding a part that Hinton left out.
“I told her if she stuck with it and did everything I asked her to do,” he said, “she could be an All-American.”
Nearly four years later, they accomplished that goal together when Hinton finished fifth in the 20-pound weight throw at the NCAA indoor championships in March.
Going into the championship portion of LSU’s outdoor schedule, Hinton has her eyes on another prize: a matching All-America certificate in the hammer throw after setting a personal best of 218 feet in her last competition May 3.
But first things first.
The next stop is the Southeastern Conference championships in Lexington, Kentucky, on Thursday, where Hinton will attempt to add the hammer title to the conference weight throw crown she won in March.
Then, there are the NCAA East preliminary rounds later this month, and, if all goes well there, the NCAA championships.
Winning the SEC title Thursday and earning another All-America honor would be the icing on the cake for Hinton, a kinesiology major who will graduate Friday, even though she won’t be on campus for the ceremony.
She finished second in the hammer last year with a mark of 202-0, the first 200-foot throw of her career after posting season’s-bests of 174-0 and 191-5 as a freshman and sophomore.
“Two years ago, everybody was telling me the weight throw was more my thing,” she said. “But I feel like I’m definitely proving myself in the hammer this year.
“If I could win the hammer, I don’t know if I would say it was more of an achievement because winning both would be great. But it would feel just as good as winning the weight throw because it would show that hard work pays off.”
Hard work — and perseverance, especially after a trying sophomore season in which she had three fouls in her last three competitions at the Penn Relays, SEC championships and NCAA preliminary rounds.
“I guess I’m famous for fouling out,” Hinton said, “but that forced me to turn the corner.”
Yush said the work part was never a question. The problem, Hinton said, was in her confidence and the undue pressure she applied to herself when she entered the throwing cage.
That started to change after the disastrous end to the 2012 season.
Hinton opened her junior season with a PR of 195-11 and topped that twice — including the 202-0 toss on her final attempt at the SEC meet. That day, she nearly overtook Georgia’s Elizabeth Tepe, who won with a 203-4.
“I’ve matured a lot and I started talking to myself, trying to calm myself down,” said Hinton, whose 218-foot heave at the LSU Invitational is the third-longest throw in the NCAA this season. “I just tell myself that I need to have fun rather than going in thinking I have to win.”
LSU coach Dennis Shaver said the difference has been obvious, particularly in cutting her fouls down.
“It’s been a lot of fun seeing the progress Denise has made, especially from last year to this year,” said Shaver, who rewarded Hinton with some scholarship aid this season. “She used to feel the pressure. But she’s relaxing now and letting things happen instead of trying to make something happen.”
“She had to cope with a lot of pressure during her four years here,” Yush agreed. “At some point, she made a decision … she was determined to not get beat any more.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.