Monte Spencer, the muscular, mild-mannered heavyweight from Oakland Mills High School, seems to have his wrestling role down pat.
"I'ma captain. I have to lead by example by working hard in practice andin dual meets and tournaments," says the 6-foot, 215-pound junior. "By the time it's my turn (to wrestle), everybody else is usually tired and ready to go home. And I've got to give them something to cheer about."
And so he has, as a peek at Spencer's 21-1 record reveals. Of his21 victims, Spencer has pinned 18, including 12 in the first period,earning him the No. 1 spot in the heavyweight division in the lateststate rankings.
Spencer has been a big factor in another successful season for the Scorpions, who are 7-2 overall, 4-0 against the county, and will shoot for their 12th league title in the last 15 years at the county tournament in two weeks.
He also appears to be mastering the role of terminator by ending his matches and the Scorpions' team victories with haste. Two weeks ago for instance, Oakland Mills held an insurmountable 13-point lead over Hammond going into the heavyweight match.
Before Spencer took on Hammond's Jesse Pitt, numerous spectators were already donning their coats and heading for the exits while glancing back at the mat. Spencer kept them from breaking stride, as he dropped Pitts with a hard takedown barely after the opening whistle. He ended the 39-20 victory in 26 seconds.
All in a night's work.
"The kids call him 'Big Monte' and they expect him to win. Part of it is because he's a heavyweight and he's got all thosepins," says Oakland Mills coach Dan Ricker, who has other exceptional wrestlers like 112-pounder Danny Bickell and 125-pounder Adam Seidman.
"Monte is starting to take on more of a role of the leader in practice," adds Ricker. "He usually doesn't say too much, so he's kind of hard to figure sometimes. He's quiet, he's polite, he does whatever I tell him to do. I just wish he'd get a little more angry beforematches."
Spencer begs to differ. "When it comes down to the match, I get pumped, but I don't like trying to intimidate people. It's not my nature," he says. "When I'm on the mat, I just work the moves I've got to do. I'm all business."
Spencer's soft-spoken demeanor shields what must be a tough interior. After all, this same quiet teen-ager went 19-6 last year in his first wrestling season at Oakland Mills, improving with every match and eventually winding up second in the county tournament, third in the regionals and third in the states.
He then earned First Team All-County football honors as a defensive lineman last fall. His improvement on the football field was due largely to maturity and the results of weight training. And when Spencer hit the wrestling mat this year, he was bench-pressing 300 pounds,compared to 225 last season.
"His balance is better and he's stronger and quicker than last year," Ricker says. "The biggest improvement is his strength. If you get a big kid with good balance who is a good athlete, you see this (quick success) happen with heavyweights. He went from being green to being third in the state last year."
Spencer, who moved to Columbia from Pittsburgh six years ago, says it took him about a month and a half to get comfortable on the mat last year. He wrestled for several years in the Columbia Cobras program in elementary school, but when he showed up for practice as a sophomore,he hadn't wrestled in three years. The layoff showed during the season's first month.
"I was seeded 16th in tournaments because I was a newcomer, and I was losing to top seeds," Spencer recalls. "But by the end of the year I was beating the same people who were beating meearlier."
Spencer hasn't had that problem this year, with one exception -- a 9-6 loss to Arundel High School's Pat Beach in last month's Arundel Tournament. Along the way, though, he has beaten second-ranked John Scheer from Chopticon High School (St. Mary's County), 4-2,and fourth-ranked Don Marco from Old Mill (Anne Arundel), 7-4.
Spencer has been especially dominant in the county, where the heavyweight division offers little competition, and only five opponents even carry a heavyweight. In addition, his many early pins may affect Spencer's endurance, which will likely be tested in the postseason againstalways-tough competition.
All of which worries Ricker, who works personally with Spencer in practice -- no one on the Scorpions' roster has the size or power to give him a real battle -- in an effort to keep him sharp for a run at a state title.
"What he does in the next two weeks is going to tell whether he's going to win a state championship," Ricker says. "There's no reason he shouldn't be a state champ. There's nobody he can't beat."
Spencer envisions a more complete slate.
"I want to win counties, regionals and states," he says."I put that in my mind in the beginning of the season and I haven't looked back."