Chris Williams looks to put a year of agony behind him this weekend.
A 152-pound Hammond senior, Williams is the favorite to win his weight class at the Howard County wrestling tournament, which would conclude a yearlong mission to regain the title that he won as a sophomore.
Williams sat out last year because of academic reasons and was unable to defend his 152-pound county crown.
"It really hurt a lot," Williams said about watching the county tournament last year. "But especially because I felt I hurt the team."
Although the Golden Bears won their first county tournament championship in school history, they finished second in the region and 10th in the state.
"Last year, that [the 152-pound slot] was our one hole," Hammond coach Bill Smith said. "I think we would have been regional and state champs with Chris. But, thankfully, he has gotten everything back in order and he's going to make up for last year."
Williams (23-3), now ranked No. 6 in the state, did not sit around and sulk during his off year. Instead, he used the time normally spent in the wrestling room in the weight room.
His sleek and powerful 5-foot-10 frame bench-pressed as much as 320 pounds, double his body weight.
"The strength does help a lot," Williams said. "I am usually stronger than most guys I wrestle against, and they feel real light."
As Williams implied, most of his opponents do spend time in the air, and their landing is not always on the soft mat. This roughhouse technique comes from Williams' solid background in freestyle.
This style has proved advantageous and costly at times.
On Dec. 14 against wrestling power Lackey of Charles County, Williams got called for illegally slamming Bill Yeager to lead to a default, which cut the team score to 20-19. Hammond eventually won, 32-31.
And on Saturday against Oakland Mills, Williams was called for unnecessary roughness before winning by pin fall 30 seconds later.
Even with this history, Smith said he would never tell Williams to tone down his attack.
"It's one of his weapons," Smith said. "Kids are actually afraid of facing him on the mat."
This freestyle method was honed over the summer when Williams and teammates John Motley (130) and Dan Proulx (140) all worked out with the state freestyle team five times a week. Besides spending this summer with Williams, Proulx is his top competitor in practice.
"It was pretty obvious this summer that it was hurting him even though he wouldn't let on how bad it felt," Proulx said about Williams' reaction to not being able to defend his county title. "And that's why he trained hard all summer."
But Williams does not consider the county title his final goal. He has set his sights on reaching the state finals.
Other than his loss off that illegal slam, Williams has dropped only two 9-5 decisions to wrestlers who will not be in the state meet.
An obstacle is his inexperience in the state tournament. After his freshman year as the 112-pound alternate for states, Williams lost his lone 152-pound match in the first round of the 1992 state tournament.
Williams said he is looking at the state tournament as his window of opportunity. He said his chance at a college scholarship hinges on his placing at states. Otherwise, Williams plans to wrestle for the Marines for a few years, then go to college.
"Chris can go as far as he wants to go because he has never fully used all his abilities," Smith said.
"He must learn to adjust when an opponent surprises him with a move. When he takes a long time to adjust, that's his weak point."
For Williams, this weekend probably will not come down to strong or weak points, but motivation. While focusing on ending a year of frustration, Williams might actually end up with a state title.