WHITESBORO — When it comes to heavy lifting, Markos Morales has been doing it throughout his high school career.

So the Bearcat senior and region champion isn’t worried about the added workload which comes with competing at the next level.

After putting together his best season in the weight room, Morales has signed to join the powerlifting program at the University of Texas.

“I was going to attend Texas originally. I reached out to the recruiter and they talked to me and said they’d love to have me on the team,” Morales said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

While powerlifting isn't sanctioned as a sport by the NCAA, the Longhorns are a competitive club program sponsored by the school to compete at the collegiate level and against teams around the country.

Texas participates in several meets throughout the school year, including hosting the Longhorn Open every November, and the season ends at the National Collegiate Meet, which the Texas women won in 2018 and the men had a seventh-place finish. This year’s tournament has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I looked at their stats and everything they've accomplished,” said Morales, who also plays football and participates in track. “This isn’t some club to do for fun. This was the real deal.”

In powerlifting, athletes compete in three disciplines — squat, bench press and deadlift. Each lifter gets three attempts per discipline at a weight total chosen by the lifter. The highest attempts competed in each are added together for a combined total weight lifted.

His two older brothers also competed for the Bearcats with one qualifying for state, so it seemed like a natural fit.

“It meant I had to as well. I was around it and I knew it would help with football,” Morales said.

He qualified for the state meet for the first time when he won the Division 3 Region 6 championship at 220 pounds and helped Whitesboro to a region runner-up finish. The Bearcats earned 25 points, edging Bells on a tie-breaker, in the team standings and were just one point short of region champion Boyd.

His total of 1,375 pounds — a 535-pound squat, a 295-pound bench press and a 545-pound deadlift — was a personal best and 30 pounds in front of the runner-up tie between Boyd’s Nick Taylor and Pilot Point’s Brandon Fangman right before the sports world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.

“It was tied after squat and I think I was sixth after the bench press. My best lift is deadlift so I was confident going into it,” Morales said. “I wanted to do the best I can. You look at the numbers and totals and shoot for those and I got there.”

Morales was set to join teammates Ignacio Salas and Alex Labrada at state in Abilene but the Texas High School Powerlifting Association was eventually forced to cancel the final meet of the season.

“I feel for everyone else. I like to stay optimistic,” Morales said. “It was tough for a couple weeks. I had worked really hard for track as well to try to get to state in that. I had big expectations.”

As a junior, Morales was down a weight class at 198 pounds and finished fifth at regionals with a total of 1,210 pounds — squatting 450 pounds, benching 275 pounds and dead-lifting 485 pounds. It was another example of his best effort of the season coming at the most important time.

But he was still 40 pounds from a medal and more than 100 from earning a state berth, setting the stage for his final opportunity.

“My junior year, it was a struggle. I was so focused on aiming for one or two and that led to me not making it to state,” Morales said. “Even dealing with injuries, I had a different approach for senior year.”

Morales advanced to regionals for the first time as a sophomore and was eighth at 220 pounds with a total of 1,190 pounds — a 450-pound squat, 265 pounds on the bench press and a 475-pound deadlift. It was his best lift of the season.