The way teammate Russell Fecteau tells it, David Inkman was sometimes a pushover last year.
"Some days I'd manhandle him," said Fecteau, who this year returned at 125 pounds for Mount St. Joseph's top-ranked wrestling team.
"He's always been a technician, but physically I just had the upper hand. Coming up to 119 from 103 the year before, he didn't have much strength."
Added muscle again has forced Inkman up two weight classes to 130, where he's ranked No. 1 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association. At 21-3 (13 pins), he's unbeaten against state competition, with tournament titles at Annapolis, Chesapeake-Anne Arundel and the Maryland Invitational at Curley.
"Now practice is a battle. We go toe-to-toe," said Fecteau, ranked No. 5 by the MSWA. "Sometimes I wipe up; others he bounces me off the walls."
Inkman, who lives in Howard County's West Friendship, began wrestling at age 8 with The Saints, Glenelg's junior-league program. Three years later, he enrolled in Burtonsville's program, placing third in the states as a seventh-grader and winning the states the next year over Dave Trudil, presently McDonogh's No. 6 wrestler at 119.
Though often second best in tournaments, Inkman happily recalls a 30-9 freshman season.
There were runner-up finishes at Curley behind two-time Maryland Scholastic Association and National Prep champ Greg Knox (Calvert Hall); at Annapolis to No. 3 Jason Bryant (Old Mill); at Chesapeake to top-ranked state champ Marty Kusick (Northeast); and in the MSAs to two-time Baltimore City champ Bruce Pendles (Dunbar).
Inkman's freshman year ended with a third-place finish at the National Preps, but he went a disappointing 27-12 as a sophomore.
"I felt awkward and uncoordinated at 119," said Inkman, who was third in last year's MSA tournament. "You expect to improve every year -- I did worse."
This year is different for Inkman, who also was third at the University of California (Pa.) Tournament and fourth at the St. Mark's (Del.) Tournament, which combined featured eight of America's top teams.
"He looked great out there and wrestled really tough. Overall, I think he really improved his stock," said seventh-year Gaels coach Paul Triplett.
Inkman's first loss, 5-1, came in the California Tournament to the eventual champ after Inkman's takedown attempt was countered with 30 seconds remaining. His second loss, 6-5, came to the eventual St. Mark's tournament champ, Greg Falasca (Blair Academy), after blowing a 5-1 lead on four stalling calls.
Inkman's bid for fourth place at St. Mark's fell short after slamming John Ogbin of Delaware's top-ranked William Penn. Inkman led 8-3 with nine seconds left, but was disqualified when Ogbin couldn't continue.
Another big match looms for Inkman this Friday against No. 5 Jason Gibson (Loyola), who already has beaten Fecteau.
"David's really aggressive now," said Fecteau. "His wrestling and lifting weights all summer -- that's the main difference."
Inkman knew his hard work had paid off in his season-opening tournament at Curley, where he won his title bout, 6-4, over Joe Dwyer of St. Joe's Prep (N.J.). Dwyer was a National Prep champ two years ago and a national runner-up last year.
"I was beating him, 2-0, last year when he pinned me," said Inkman. "Getting the first takedown was the key. I knew I could beat him."
In the title bout of the Chesapeake tournament two weeks later, Inkman's third-period reversal stood for a 4-2 decision over Frederick's No. 4 Tim Novak. Novak was a defending state champ a year earlier when Inkman -- despite breaking his finger in the second period -- beat him, 3-1, en route to a runner-up finish at Chesapeake.
"I just couldn't see him beating me," said Inkman. "I have a lot more confidence this year."