Choosing a spot in a distant corner of the McDonogh School wrestling room Monday, a sweat-soaked Shawn Miller squared himself for takedowns against round-robin partner Greg Knox.
Having practiced for nearly an hour with the Maryland Junior Greco-Roman/Freestyle team, each of the two small wrestlers showed signs of fatigue, yet neither wanted to give quarter.
Assistant coach Kenny Taylor laid down the ground rules for the drill, saying, "You're going for five minutes, and the loser has to do 25 push-ups. If there's no takedown, both guys have push-ups."
That seemed all the motivation needed for the poised Miller, who bristled and stared intently at his slightly smaller adversary.
On Taylor's cue, the 123-pounder attacked with ferocity similar to that which pushed him to a 35-0 record and the 119-pound Class 4A state title as a senior at Broadneck this past winter.
His pressure began to force the 114.5-pound Knox backward. Yet Knox, a National Prep and Maryland Scholastic Association champ, was able to hold off the three-time county champion.
With the same guile that helped him to a 27-1 record at Calvert Hall, Knox slipped, countered and parried several of Miller's attempts.
Finally, however, Miller catches his rival in a bearhug and bends him -- squirming -- backward. Knox was somehow able to avoid going to his back, but later dropped to do his push-ups. He eventually lost three more takedowns.
With half an hour left in the three-hour practice, Miller was wrestling Oakland Mills' 132-pound, three-time Howard County champion, Adam Seidman. His previous partners -- Knox and Calvert Hall's 123-pound MSA champion Brendan James both were icing injuries (Knox, back; James, arm) as a result of sparring with Miller.
"Shawn's a tough cookie, a very, very intense person and just a super, super kid. The kind of guy you need to lead a team," said Taylor, an assistant coach at Coppin State University who wrestled in the 1988 Olympic Trials.
"He's going to be the last guy who goes to get a drink of water -- if he goes at all. If he's late for practice, you won't know it because he jumps right into the action, leads the action, dominates the action. You don't have to tell him two or three times to do something in practice. It's like, 'OK guys, let's start running,' -- and bop! -- he's there before you finish [the sentence]."
On a Junior Team that has a combined 18 state titlists, five MSA champs and five wrestlers who placed in the National Prep tournament, Miller -- who is headed for Lock Haven (Pa.) University this fall -- is a favorite to win a national title in the July 24-26 Greco-Roman/Freestyle nationals in St. Paul, Minn.
"He's going to an intense college with a great wrestling tradition, and I see him fitting right in," said Taylor. "A coach benefits from those kinds of guys because he makes your job easier."
Also on the team are Broadneck's former state champion Charlie Bennett (114.5) and Mount St. Joseph's former two-time MSA champion Shane McCarthy (132), a Pasadena resident who placed fourth in the National Prep tournament last winter.
"If there's such a thing as a high school Dream Team, this is it. This is the best team we've fielded in a long while," said Cornell Bass, director of the Northwest Wrestling Club, where the team trains, at Baltimore County's McDonogh School.
"And I'll tell you something. Shawn's going to be a [freestyle] All-American."
Miller's fourth-place finish in April's National High School championships won him High School All-American status. Miller has to at least finish eighth in St. Paul to receive All-American honors.
"Freestyle isn't what I'm best at, so I figured I'd come in here with the best in Maryland, try to stick with them. I need all the styles I can get for college," said Miller, a first-team All-Metro selection.
Miller has increased the muscle tone in his arms from working construction nine hours a day, six days a week this summer. He earned about $230 a week, but missed valuable mat time as a result.
When he reported to Junior Team practice two weeks ago, the squad already had been in training for a month. Still, after accumulating a school-best career record of 101-5, being chosen the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1991-1992 Wrestler of the Year and winning High School All-American status, Miller figured he had become a household name in state wrestling circles.
He was slightly offended when Taylor used him as an example during a drill, but called him "this gentleman," after having already been introduced to him.
"I knew I had to work harder after that, so they'd notice me," said Miller. "I knew I wouldn't be as good as the guys who have been here longer, that's why I come in earlier, stay later and push myself longer."