As Erin Woodward left the wrestling mats for the final time at the Lackey Invitational Tournament Saturday, he was in pain.
The Hammond senior had just claimed a gutsy, 3-2 victory over Quince Orchard's Ben Dortman for third place at 152 pounds. But he wrestled with flu-induced back trouble that made competition nearly intolerable.
He endured, and his one-point, third-period escape made the difference.
"In between second and third periods, I was going to stop it," Hammond coach Bill Smith said. "But when I asked for injury time, Erin said, 'No, let's go so I can finish.' He's definitely one of the tougher kids that I've been involved with."
Woodward is also one of Smith's key wrestlers as the Golden Bears vie for Howard County supremacy with Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake. He is 9-1 -- including a 4-1 showing at Lackey -- after coming off a 28-6-2 campaign. As a junior, he placed second in the Class 2A/1A region and third in the county at 125.
Now weighing 144 pounds, Woodward, 5 feet 7, is undersized but effective at 152. Seven of his nine victories are at 152, the other two at 145. And without Woodward's commitment to jump weight classes, Hammond would probably have to forfeit 152, said Smith.
"He's doing it for the sake of the team," Smith said. "He stayed up because that seemingly would make us stronger. He'll probably wrestle 140 at some point in the season, but now he's still at 145 and 152."
Not a flashy wrestler, Woodward relies on basic moves during competition. That's where his exceptional strength and quickness -- compensation for a frequent inability to match weight with opponents -- come in handy.
"He's strong, quick and has a lot of good balance," Oakland Mills coach Steve Carnahan said at Lackey. "Last night [in the opening round], he looked very strong on his feet. He basically owned that kid and was taking him down at will."
Carnahan was referring to Woodward's opening-round pin of Wheaton's Rob Ray at 5:47. Next, Woodward recorded an 8-2 decision before coming head-to-head with Oakland Mills senior Geoff Henderson. With both wrestlers being conservative, the first two periods were scoreless.
But a third-period escape and takedown handed Henderson a 3-0 win. Afterward, Woodward wasn't happy.
"I shot in once and had his leg, but I couldn't pull it in because he was too strong," Woodward said. "I should have won that match. He had no moves; he didn't try anything. He just out-muscled me."
Relegated to the consolation round, he recorded a 6-5 squeaker before topping Dortman for third place.
"I'm a lot lighter than my opponents, so I'm kind of proud of myself," Woodward said after his final match. "I was able to hang with them."
Wrestling isn't Woodward's only sport at Hammond. His name is known on the football field, where he plays running back, and with outdoor track. He runs the 200-meter -- and the 400 and 800 relays. Of the three sports, football is his favorite.
His motivation to wrestle comes from "the pain I inflict on people," he said. "Say, I get a headlock and the other person starts to scream, it gets me pumped up more."
Smith sees a "raw ability" in Woodward the wrestler. The third-year coach indicated he's seeking colleges that may be interested in the star wrestler.