Matt Slutzky always has set lofty goals.
In the sixth grade, he made a bet with his brother that he would be a four-time state wrestling champion. This is the year to see who will win the bet.
The Aberdeen senior won his third title last March, and will try this season to become the state's first-ever four-time winner. He also has one other goal.
"This year, I want to win everything," said Slutzky, who dropped only one match in 33 last year. "I know there's going to be some matches when I'm going to have trouble, but I don't think anybody should beat me. I don't think anybody in the country should beat me when I'm at my best."
Slutzky isn't bragging.
Ranked No. 1 in the 140-pound weight class by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, he is heavily favored to take a fourth title.
The Eagles, ranked seventh as a team by the MSWA, move up to Class 3A/4A, but that won't hurt Slutzky's chances to set a new title milestone. The toughest competition is probably still in the lower class.
But Slutzky doesn't underestimate the opposition. He knows he's a marked man. And, he knows the competition will get tougher as the season goes on.
"States is a tough tournament. Guys might not be ranked or you might not have heard about them, but they keep coming at you, and they won't back off."
Slutzky was like that in his freshman year when he was unranked early, but came on to win the state title. He knows an unheralded grappler could be waiting for him.
Of course, along with the top ranking comes pressure. "I feel it. I know it's there, but I try as much as I can not to think about it."
In past years, Slutzky has had some trouble handling the pressure. He says he was a "hothead" but now he's more under control.
His father, Aberdeen coach Dick Slutzky, said, "He used to feel the pressure a lot more. He's got his head on better this year, and he's not going to get frustrated by the pressure. He's finally matured enough to handle it."
Most of the pressure comes from within himself, said the wrestler, who drives himself hard even in practice. The pressure doesn't come from his father, an animated coach who drives his wrestlers.
"A lot of people think my dad puts a lot of pressure on me, but he doesn't. He doesn't say 'Get up at 6 a.m. and run and do 1,000 push-ups.' I guess people get that impression. They say he's like a drill sergeant, but I put the pressure on myself."
Slutzky also has college on his mind. He is being actively recruited, hearing from schools like Iowa State and Ohio State which have top-notch wrestling programs. In addition to his wrestling ability, Slutzky's 3.7 grade-point average should look good to college recruiters.