Down on luck, mat, Stokes escapes Hammond wrestler turns victory corner

January 24, 1993|By Michael Richman | Michael Richman,Contributing Writer

Early in his junior season, Hammond wrestler Josh Stokes was on his back -- in spirit.

After losing in the finals of the Douglas Tournament and to two wrestlers at the Lackey Tournament, including Oakland Mills' Joe Salinas, Stokes was a dejected wrestler with a 7-5 record.

He came out even more determined, however, to pin a tough opponent from South River High for fifth place.

"He didn't want to go out there and wrestle, he was so dejected," coach Bill Smith recalled. "But he doesn't take well to losing. It made him wrestle with an intensity above the level he had been at before."

Smith described the Lackey sequence as the "turning point" in Stokes' wrestling fortunes -- and the numbers tell the story. Stokes concluded the 1991-92 season 19-3 and held a 12-2 mark in his senior year heading into this weekend.

Stokes wrestled at 140 last year and finished 26-8 overall. He placed third in the Howard County Tournament, losing to Wilde Lake's Bobby Farace. This season, he's 3-2 (145) and 9-0 (152), nearing a possible confrontation against an Oakland Mills opponent for the county title. It could be three-time county champ Adam Seidman (145) or the talented Geoff Henderson (152). Seidman has wrestled at 140 most of the season.

Above all else, Stokes is reputed as a pinner. He recorded 20 pins last season and has seven this season. Smith sees Stokes enforce a lot of power moves.

But, "he's not somebody that has a marquee move," Smith said. "He's an all-around sound wrestler."

Last season before the regionals, Stokes dislocated his left elbow in practice. He admits that the arm remains weak, creating a reliance on more shots instead of throws.

"I can still muscle people like last year," Stokes said, "but once I run into somebody that's stronger than me, it's hard. When you get into counties, regionals and states, you can't throw those guys around because they're better wrestlers, they know what to do."

With frequency, Stokes appears different on the mat than the average wrestler. He doesn't attempt any dirty maneuvers, and after matches, he'll congratulate opponents like a gentleman. Smith perceives Stokes as a "Jekyll and Hyde," because the wrestler -- reserved off the mat -- is intense during competition.

"Off the mat, he's a very thoughtful, caring, spiritual kid with strong Christian beliefs," Smith said. "When he goes on the mat, he has the ability to flip the switch on and be super-aggressive and powerful."

For Stokes, winning or losing isn't the bottom line. He prays before each match and wrestles for "God's glory."

"[Wrestling's] not a fight to me and it's not like I hate anybody," Stokes said. "A lot of guys get real mad . . . they punch each other on the mat. It's like they're out there fighting, not wrestling."

Stokes has proven that he can recover from adverse situations. Behind in points and nearly pinned, he escaped Howard's John Finney (140) and reversed Oakland Mills' Brian Duvall (145) en route to pins, both of which were then considered upsets.

Against Finney, "I wasn't going to get pinned," Stokes said. "I wanted to prove that I could stick with him, if not beat him. We would have lost if Duvall had pinned me. Because of the [Hammond-Oakland Mills] rivalry, it gave me more reason not to lose."

"He always comes through when you need it and you can count on him to get the big win," said teammate John Motley (130), a junior who is 11-3. "He's aggressive and never quits."

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