There were times this season when first-year Southern wrestling coach Tyrone Neal felt he'd bitten off more than he could chew.
Like when he felt as if he'd put his foot in his mouth by saying he'd turn the Bulldogs into a county and state power by the end of his first season -- let alone by the end of his coaching career.
Coupled with his night-time job as a prison corrections officer, the coaching job sometimes became tiresome and more like the role of a parent. He told kids to stay in school, watch their diets and go tobed early.
But Neal's efforts paid off Saturday as the Bulldogs (82 points) were runners-up to champion Owings Mill's (125) in the Class 2A/1A state tournament.
After watching four of his eight wrestlers finish in the top four of their weight classes -- including his 103-pound son Sherrad, who was third -- Neal held his head high like the proud father he was.
"My son's only a sophomore and he came (to the state tournament) last year and didn't win a match," said Neal, aformer-two time state champion at Southern. "He took his lumps in some matches this year just like the rest of the team, but I think the kids improved from that. Our county has three of the top 10 teams in the state."
Southern's No. 4-ranked Jason Braithwait (32-1-1) won the152-pound crown with a 17-2 technical fall and second-place teammateChris Boston (160) dropped a 4-2 decision to Mardela's Ishmael Smithin the championship bout.
Boston (31-4) wrestled the final match while wearing a face-mask to protect stitches in his upper lip. The injury was the result of a tough 17-8 victory over Havre de Grace's Tom Burdsall, the state runner-up last year.
After losing a 4-3, decision to Overlea's top-ranked heavyweight John Swigart -- the eventual runner-up -- Southern's Robert Burley (29-6) wrestled through the consolation brackets for third place.
Burley defeated Wicomico's fifth-ranked former state runner-up Daryle Rider, 7-4, and pinned Northern Garrett County's Scott Beitzel with 55 seconds left in the match.
"I had lost to three ranked wrestlers in a row and in the county's, regional and states. It was time to put a stop to that," said Burley, who had lost to Old Mill's fourth-ranked Don Marco, Chopticon's eventual state champion John Scheer (No. 2) and Swigart by a combined,7-3.
"I only weigh 194 pounds and they're bigger than me. They use their weight," said Burley. "But I know I'm better on my feet. I haven't been taken down yet. Next year, I'll start keeping my composure more."