JEFFERSON, Ga. -- The shushes came each time he stepped into the cage.
This could be the one that breaks the record, they whispered. With each release of the discus, a collective gasp clamored down the concrete bleachers onto the track.
North Gwinnett's Kibwe Johnson was the featured attraction on Friday during the Georgia High School Association Track and Field Championships held at the Jefferson High School stadium. Johnson, a senior, captivated the spectators with practice throws of nearly 200 feet.
The defending Class AAA champion's first official throw ensured a repeat performance. The 3-pound, 4-ounce discus was marked at 169 feet, 7 inches. Josh Rowen, of West Hall, took second place in as many years with a best of 160 feet, 9 inches.
The mesmerized crowd would not witness a state record on Friday. Johnson's 170 foot, 9 inch throw would be the day's best, leaving Steve Boecler's mark of 179 feet, 7 inches intact.
Johnson thrives when challenged. He wouldn't be pushed by the eight other finalists on Friday. The Georgia signee has a personal best of 185 feet, 10 inches, but his final two throws of his prep career were scratched, leaving him a champion but not a record-holder.
"I'm disappointed I didn't throw more than I did," said Johnson, who also plans to play safety for the Bulldogs his sophomore year. "I'm not worried about the record, but I should have thrown farther."
Greenbrier's Ryan Bowers took eighth place in the discus with a throw of 140 feet, 1 inch. The first-year thrower was amazed with Johnson's ability.
"Wow," the Wolfpack senior said. "He's an amazing athlete. That's definitely the furthest I've seen somebody throw. In most meets, I was winning with 130 feet."
Twirling in the ring, in his orange-swooshed Nike's, Johnson let record-setting throws go in practice. Standing on the inside fringe of the Warriors' track, the unsuspecting discus was hurled toward the opposite side of the football field. On more than one occasion it skipped once on the grass, then came to rest on the synthetic track.
His coach, Jim Yike, said Johnson was too tense in the cage during competition.
"When people here expect big things, it's hard for a high school kid to calm down and relax," Yike said. "All his good days are ahead of him."
In other first-day competition, Washington County's Tyler Biggen won the Class AA discus with a throw of 151 feet, 1 inch. Shedrick Wynn, of Lincoln County, was seventh in the Class A shot put with a toss of 44 feet, 8 inches during his first trip to the state championships.
Hephzibah's Cory Crosby finished fourth in the high jump. Burke County's Jimmy Kelly, the reigning 200 meters champ, did not place in the triple jump on Friday, but remains confident the Bears have a chance to finish high as a team.
The Bears took third place in Class AAA last year and their 400-meter relay team has the second-fastest qualifying time among all squads, and quickest in Class AAA.
"Hopefully, this year we'll take it home," Kelly said referring to the team title. "There's no personal pleasure here, we just have to do our jobs."
Jimmy DeButts can be reached at (706) 823-3216.