While other students are spending their spring break traveling to exciting destinations — or sleeping in — Turlock High School sophomore Nicolas McKeon is at the school’s shooting range honing his skills for an upcoming competition.
Although some people might scratch their heads at McKeon’s decision to spend spring break at school, it is thanks to dedication like this that the sophomore has recently been honored as the 12th best shooter nationwide in the Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps program.
“I am really proud, not just of me, but of my team for helping me out,” said McKeon. “It feels really good to finally put us on the map, because for the past couple of years this really wasn’t the biggest program. So it’s really nice to bring it to people’s attention and get them interested.”
McKeon’s journey towards being recognized as one of the nation’s best shooters began at the 2015 Navy JROTC Service Air Rifle Championships in February, where McKeon traveled alongside the school’s marksmanship team to Arizona to showcase his shooting dexterity in three different positions: prone (lying down), offhand (standing) and kneeling.
“Stress was definitely the biggest problem I had,” said McKeon. “I just kept drinking a lot of water, reading and just closing my eyes for a couple of minutes until I finally realized that this is what I need to accomplish my goals.”
McKeon and fellow team member Larry Maloney made it as two of the top 10 individual shooters and competed in a final round at the three-day event, where they were challenged with 10 shots in the offhand position.
Upon completion of the final round, McKeon was successfully able to secure his spot at fourth place, meaning that he would be one of the top eight individual NJROTC shooters to move on to the 2015 National JROTC Air Rifle Championship in Ohio and compete against cadets in all JROTC branches in the nation.
McKeon was the first THS student to earn a top spot and go to the national competition.
“I was definitely not expecting it,” said McKeon
“This was especially notable because 2,818 cadets tried out for the eight individual slots available,” added Senior Naval Science Instructor and Coach Major Kelly Cross.
At the 2015 National JROTC Air Rifle Championships in March, McKeon managed to make it to one of two possible finals during the three day event.
“They went to an offhand shoot-off with 10 shots and they got 50 seconds to shoot one shot,” said Cross. “After everyone had completed one shot, they all turned around and heard their scores announced.”
On the very first day, McKeon was tied at seventh place with two other cadets with the same score. However, upon completion of the final round, he moved from seventh place to fourth place.
“When I made it into finals on the first day at fourth place in the entire nation, I was actually kind of confused,” laughed McKeon. “I just kept thinking, this is the best of the best here.”
Although he was met with success on his first day of shooting, McKeon reported that his second day wasn’t as rewarding as he was unable to make it to the second round of finals.
“The next day, which was my last shooting day, I kind of dropped points and unfortunately dropped down to 12th place,” said McKeon.
Despite the fact that McKeon did not make it to the second round of finals, Cross noted that the young shooter still rose above expectations.
“In truthfulness, our hope when we got there was to be in the top 50 percent,” said Cross. “Instead, he was in the top half percent; so spectacular job on his part.”
Even though the 2015 National JROTC Air Rifle Championships are behind him, McKeon has made it clear that his continuing success is not.
Just two weekends ago, McKeon won the individual 2015 California State Championship Award and his marksmanship team was also awarded as the top team. He is currently looking forward to the Central Valley CECA Championships this weekend.
“The way I see it is you need to have a little fun while you’re doing it,” said McKeon. “It’s not just about being completely serious all the time. You just have to imagine the score you want before you shoot and you have to make it real in your mind.”