SOUTH PORTLAND — At first glance, Dan Guiliani might not look like a young man who has a sensitive side.

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior at South Portland High has a passion for shot-putting that borders on the obsessive. He spends countless hours in the weight room and just as much time refining a complicated spin move that has allowed him to become the nation’s fourth-ranked high school thrower.

But Guiliani also likes writing poetry. And cracking jokes with his pals.

“Dan is a really fun guy,” sophomore Max Holmes said. “But he is serious about sports and takes pride in what he’s achieved. He’s popular because he’s a naturally nice guy and he’s funny and he’s a top athlete.”

On Saturday, Guiliani will compete as a high schooler for the final time at the Maine Class A outdoor track and field championships at Hampden Academy. He won the shot put title as a sophomore and set a state record in the event as a junior. This spring, he became the only high schooler from New England to ever throw farther than 70 feet.

‘HE’S OUT THERE BY HIMSELF’

In a sport where records are broken incrementally, Guiliani’s throw of 71 feet, 1-1/2 inches on May 11 shattered the previous New England mark by almost 4 feet.

“You think about the fact that the second-best boy shot putter in Maine history threw 62 (feet), and now he’s over 70. It’s incomparable,” said George Mendros, who has coached track at Thornton Academy for 35 years.

“There’s not anyone close to him,” said Diane Fournier, Mt. Ararat High School’s track coach since 1975. “He’s out there by himself.”

By comparison, the second-best throw in Maine this spring is 57 feet, 10-1/2 inches by Biddeford junior Matt Brady.

Guiliani, 18, who will attend Iowa State next year on a full athletic scholarship, is not far off the nation’s best. The top-ranked high schooler in the country is Jordan Geist of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, with a throw of 74 feet, 3-1/2 inches.

Guiliani started gaining attention last year with his rapid progress in the shot put, improving from a best of 54 feet, 10 inches as a sophomore to 66 feet, 5 inches last year.

Coaches credit Guiliani’s success to his switch from a glide move to the spin before his junior year. It is a technique few high school throwers use, but it’s the standard among world-class competitors.

“I think anyone who had watched Danny throw, and has seen his progress knew he was a 70-footer,” said Fletcher Brooks, the head track coach at Iowa State.

“The fact that he improved 10 feet from sophomore to junior and (this year) improved another 5-plus feet makes some sense. The change in technique has suited him better, and that has shown in the results.”

Guiliani first went out for track as a freshman. A strong, promising football player, he tried the shot put. After he finished second at the New England Championships as a sophomore – missing the title by less than 4 inches – his interest in the event quickly became a passion.

Guiliani won the state title last spring with a throw of 62 feet, 8-1/4 inches, and then went on to win the New England Championships with a meet-record 64 feet, 2-1/4 inches.

‘WATCHING HIM IS FUN’

This winter during the indoor season, when he was sidelined because of an elbow injury, Guiliani focused on improving his speed and footwork to become a faster, more agile athlete.

He worked with South Portland coach Dave Kahill on the “middle section” of the spin move when, after turning onto his right foot, he moves onto his left before bounding again onto his right. Through this last part, Kahill said, Guiliani is now smoother and more sure-footed. The result is an obvious gain in speed in the moment before Guiliani releases the 12-pound shot put.

“He hits the linear spots across the circle more consistently and quicker,” Kahill said. “He’s balanced and fast. He moves down the circle in a straight line.”

Other coaches noticed.

“Watching him is fun,” Falmouth coach Danny Paul said. “There is a rhythm there now. I’ve only seen him once this year, but I’m looking forward to seeing him at states. One of the coaches at South Portland said to me he is much more fluid. Some of that might also be confidence.”

Guiliani says unabashedly that the shot put is his life.

However, his teammates and friends say he’s much more: an outgoing leader, an ad-hoc coach, and an example of a committed, passionate athlete who also likes to have fun.

“He always comes to practice ready to work and is focused,” said Joe Mutombo, a fellow senior thrower who also played on the football team with Guiliani.

“He’s a tough coach. He sees what you’re doing wrong and he can explain it. He speaks to you calmly, but he doesn’t put you off. He doesn’t want to discourage you.”

Guiliani is hardly one-dimensional. In his spare time, he writes poetry. He plans to major in communications and journalism in college because, he says with a smile, “writing is the thing.”

“I like writing poetry about my past. It’s a cool way to get away,” he said.

And before he competes, he doesn’t listen to hard rock or rap like many athletes, but country music, which he said helps him stay calm. His favorite artist is Gary Allen and his favorite song has the refrain:

“Cause I love the long shots, And the left out lost causes, Hanging out in the back of the pack, With the dark horses.”

Indeed, Guiliani’s high school career has not been easy.

A year ago during his break-out year, Guiliani said competitors teased him and spread rumors that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Those claims still exist, he said Thursday. And they bother him. Guiliani said the rumors are false, and made by people who are misinformed.

‘I WANT TO BE VERY GOOD’

But he said the gossip only makes him more determined to leave his mark in Maine: a shot put record that will last for years to come.

“Last year it was kind of a big deal,” he said of the rumors. “A bunch of people at other schools brought it up. It’s not something I dwell on. It’s not something that affects my performance.

“It’s just wrong. It’s not who I am as a person. It’s sad it’s what people have to assume when you improve so well, especially when you look at the progression.

“Last year I went from 62 (feet) indoors to 66 outdoors. And obviously when you switch from the glide to the spin you’re going to improve. Last year was the first year I did the spin. Now I’m that much better at it.”

Guiliani won’t defend his title at the New England Championships in New Britain, Connecticut, on June 11 because he will be taking the ACT college entrance exam that day. His SAT scores came back lower than expected and Iowa State wants Guiliani to take the ACT to ensure he is eligible to compete his freshman year. But neither his admittance to Iowa State nor his scholarship is in jeopardy, said Patrick Tarbox, Iowa State’s assistant sports information director. If needed, Guiliani could redshirt his freshman year.

Guiliani also will forgo the New Balance National Outdoor Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, on June 17-18 even though it would be his last opportunity to earn All-America status. Guiliani has never competed at the national meet.

“I won’t go to nationals,” he said. “I have a lot going on this summer: the Lobster Bowl (Maine’s all-star football game), graduation, and the ACT. I’m also going to take college classes this summer to lighten the load next year.

“But I’m definitely looking forward to throwing in Division I next year. I want to be very good in college.”

Paul, who has coached at Falmouth for 40 years, said it’s possible Guiliani could improve again at Saturday’s championship.

“With the 70-foot thing, everyone presumed he would inevitably break it,” Paul said. “I think the potential is there. He’s at that national level now. He’s fast for his size. He’s quick. That’s a big part of it. I figured as he got used to himself physically, he’d inevitably get better.”