Zack Fowl exudes a quiet confidence.
The Aberdeen junior doesn't talk much about winning another state wrestling title. But in his mind, his objective is clear.
"I did it before and my goal is to do it again," said Fowl, who swept the county, regional and state championships last year. "As longas it's clear in your mind what you want to do, you have no problems."
Fowl hasn't had many problems for the past two years. He has lost only three matches since the beginning of his sophomore year. Nobody from Harford has beaten him since he was a freshman.
Last summer in Missouri, he won four matches in the Cadet National Championships, sponsored by the National Wrestling Federation for high school wrestlers 16 and under.
But Fowl got the scare of his career last weekend in the finals of the Harford County Wrestling Tournament -- evenif it did happen after time had run out.
At the end of the secondperiod of the 112-pound title bout, Edgewood freshman David Schimmelrolled Fowl onto his shoulders as the crowd roared in anticipation of an upset.
Nobody realized that time had already expired, becausethe buzzer could not be heard.
"Zack just went under," said Aberdeen coach Dick Slutzky. "He thought it was stopped, and he let it go.The people on the buzzer are the ones that screwed up. The crowd wasbooing, but time had run out."
With so much crowd noise, the two referees didn't realize time had expired for about five seconds. To Fowl, who was nearly pinned, it seemed a lot longer.
"I thought 'holy smoke.' I looked at the scoreboard and time had run out but I couldn't hear the buzzer going off. I could see the referee and he was blowing the whistle. I thought, 'What are you waiting for?' "
When Fowl (26-1) emerged from Schimmel's hold, he looked dazed. But he still led, 15-6. In the third period, Fowl overpowered Schimmel to win a 20-7 decision.
The final outcome was expected. During the regular season, Fowl, who is ranked No. 1 in his weight class by the MarylandState Wrestling Association, had beaten Schimmel by technical fall.
Fowl knows what it's like to lose in the county finals as a freshman. He fell in the 1990 title bout to Edgewood's Ty Long.
"That was a close match. We flip flopped, but in the last couple seconds, he rolled me. I hesitated and he caught my leg. That was the last time Ilost to him."
Fowl, started wrestling in the fourth grade, won four county titles and made four trips to the state championships whilewrestling in the Aberdeen Rec program. He followed his uncles, Doug and Brian Gruber, to Aberdeen High.
Once in Slutzky's program, it took a year for Fowl to excel on the state level. Between his freshman and sophomore years, he made great strides.
"I was much better on my feet," said Fowl. "I was much more aggressive. My first year, I was hesitant and scared to do things. Now, I'm starting to open up more and more each year."
Fowl improved his freshman record of 22-7 to 30-2 last season.
He had become a better wrestler and had gained confidence. But he also gained weight.
"My freshman year, I was kind of small for my weight class. That year they dropped the 98-pound class. I was weighing 97 pounds," he said.
Last year, the 5-1 Fowl won his county title at 112 pounds and his state and regional titles at 103. At the beginning of this season, he weighed in at 127 before cutting down to 112.
Winning last year's state title didn't come easy for Fowl, who looked like he might breeze to the title after picking up a forfeit and two pins in the early rounds. But in the final, Fowl eked out a 5-4 overtime victory over Kendall Lloyd, of Damascus.
This year, Fowl and the rest of the Eagles moved up to Class 3A/4A for the regionals which were to conclude yesterday.
The competition at the state level might be even stiffer than in Class 1A/2A. Among those Fowl could meet in the state tournament beginning Friday at Western Maryland College are defending champ at 112, Charlie Bennett, of Broadneck, and runner-up Steve Lundstrom, of Old Mill.
Noneof them seem to shake Fowl's confidence.
"I'll just do my best. Iknow what I want to do. Now, I just have to do it."