When Kevin Neville was healthy last winter, there wasn't a 152-pound high school wrestler in the state who could stay on the mat with him.
Even with a partially separated shoulder last summer, the Mount St. Joseph grappler was among the nation's best 15-year-olds, finishing ninth in the United States Wrestling Federation's Cadet Nationals last July.
Beginning tomorrow, Neville, 16, will participate in a weeklong, intensive session of Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling at the invitation of Bruce Bennett, head of the U.S. Wrestling Federation. Neville was the only Marylander -- and one of 50 high school seniors -- receiving an invitation to the camp, at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Neville says he owes the honor to the experience he gained in the Cadet Nationals last summer.
"It was one of my first times wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman, and I didn't expect to catch on so quickly, especially after hurting my shoulder two days before the tournament," said the Sykesville resident. Neville had suffered the injury while working out with Andre Kelly, a national prep champion in 1987 while at Montgomery County's Bullis High.
"The guys who finished second and third only beat me by one point each," said Neville, who wrestled with his arm taped to his side. "I proved to myself that I could hang with some of the best.
"The invitation came as a surprise to me [though], because I didn't even know they had anything like this," said Neville, who captured the Maryland Scholastic Association title in March after a runner-up finish as a sophomore.
Neville has come a long way since his freshman season at Glenelg High, where he finished as a county runner-up. In the letter, Bennett calls Neville "one of the nation's top Greco-Roman high school wrestlers."
"Greco-Roman is all upper body, all throws," said Neville, who relies on skill and hip movement rather than brute strength to excel. "It's going to be a week of intense training. It's a great way to prepare for my future."
The day after he returns from Lake Placid, Neville will wrestle in the Northwest Wrestling Club Challenge at Bullis Prep. Then he'll compete in the freestyle and Greco-Roman nationals July 15-23 with the Maryland Junior National team.
Neville earned himself plenty of exposure last winter, capturing his second consecutive tournament titles at Annapolis, Chesapeake and Archbishop Curley High Schools, being top-ranked all year long by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, and capping the season as a first-team, All-Metro selection by the Baltimore Sun.
He posted a 30-2 record, with his losses coming against Pennsylvania wrestlers. Included among Neville's area-leading 24 pins was one in the first period over Annapolis' Chip Cochran, the eventual 152-pound Class 4A-3A state champion.
"This year [at Mount St. Joseph,] people stayed away from going upper body with me, because they know I like to throw you," Neville said. "I might not look that strong, but I can surprise a lot of people with my leverage."
But Neville suffered a rib injury in practice six days after winning the MSA title and could not wrestle in the National Prep tournament. As a result, runner-up Mount St. Joseph missed winning the title by just two points.
"I was very disappointed because I would have been the top seed," said Neville. "I think I could have scored about 35 points."
Neville scored big in his first tournament since hurting his ribs, beating a Virginia state champ en route to a runner-up finish in the Annapolis Open freestyle tournament in late March.
In early April, Neville won a Junior Olympic, Greco-Roman tournament in Brockport, N.Y., pinning the New York state champion in the finals.
Soon after, he came down with a severe case of mononucleosis and only recently has begun to recover.
"I lost about 15 pounds," said Neville. "I weighed 165 when I first got sick; now I weigh about 151.
"But nothing's going to stop me from going [to Lake Placid]."