It's all come down to one meet for D.J. Duke.
The River High graduate will embark on the shot-put ring for possibly the final six times today when he represents Ashland University at the Division II Outdoor Nationals held on the campus of Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Duke said about the last meet of his career. "Actually it doesn't even feel like the national meet because this is a track I've competed at before."
Duke - coming off a bronze medal performance at the national meet during the indoor season - has continued right where he left off during a highly productive outdoor season in which every meet has had a mark of better than 59 feet.
"The outdoor season has been pretty solid," Duke said. "I've been consistent, which is something most can't say, but I am missing a big throw right now. I've tapered off, made my lifts faster and I am ready to go."
Duke, who won two state championships and still owns the OHSAA Division III state record during his prep years with the Pilots, enters the competition, which begins at 2 p.m. as the second seed. His best mark thus far is 18.79 meters.
"(The national title) is probably a toss up between three people," Duke admitted. "There's a guy in three events and the shot put will be his last event, so he's kind of a wild card. I really think I have a good shot at winning this."
Duke, who is a veteran at the national competition, won't change the approach that's worked for him throughout his career.
"I am going to take it one throw at a time," Duke said. "I need to get a throw in round one to hold the ring securely and get enough to make the finals. From there, I'll increase my energy and go for bigger throws to move up."
Duke has spent a lot of time running this competition through his head. So, what's it going to take to win the gold?
"Probably 63 (feet) plus to win and 61 (feet) to get into the top three," Duke said. "I am going to have to probably hit a (personal record). It still ties into what 20 other guys do on that day, too. So, there are a lot of factors to consider."
The GLIAC and all-Ohio meet champion, who was recently named all-region by the college coaches association, owns a personal record of 61-ft-8.
"I don't pay a lot of attention to seeding because someone will foul out, a kid, who is supposed to be all-American won't make finals and someone else will make finals," Duke said. "There's always a surprise element. I just know I am going to need a big throw."
As badly as he wants to win the national championship, Duke admitted he'll sleep the same even if he falls short.
"I don't feel like I need (the national title) to validate my career," Duke said. "Obviously, the national championship would be nice, but I can live without one. When I first came (to Ashland), I thought I needed that. But, I came to school to get a degree and earning that (earlier this spring) was one of the proudest moments of my life. I am waiting to go out into the world an take what I've learned through class and track and use it to the best of my ability."
During Duke's prep career, which saw him throw 50 feet as a freshman, many expected Duke would compete at the Division I level. He opted for Ashland because of the coaching he would receive from Jud Logan. It's been a decision that Duke's had not one regret over.
"I've grown as a person, made friendships that will last a lifetime and competed against some of the best people in the world," Duke said. "Coach Logan has been a great influence on me. He's heped me through good and bad times and shown me how to act.
"It's been a good ride and now I am hoping to go out on top with it," Duke continued.
Prior to the indoor national meet, Duke didn't rule out a possibility of competing post collegiately. He changed his tune somewhat.
"Right now, I will say that this is my final meet," Duke said. "But, who knows? I have a couple of plans, and if they work out, I might throw again."