Watching a college wrestling tournament was an eye-opener for Howard High senior Eric Paskin.
He's ranked No. 6 at 145 pounds in Maryland after going 31-1 last year, pinning seven times and scoring eight technical falls en route to placing third in the 3A-4A state tournament.
Would he enjoy similar success in college?
"That's a completely different level. Guys were down six, seven points and never stopped going after it. That's impressive. That's intensity," said Paskin, who carries a 3.2 grade-point average and scored 1,000 on the Scholastic Assessment Test.
And with his plans to wrestle at Drexel, George Mason or Lock Haven (Pa.) universities, among others, Paskin knows it's going to take all the dedication he can muster.
"A lot of guys my size looked bigger and stronger, and fast as lightning," Paskin said. "I went to see if I was ready for that level. Now I know I'd really have to pick it up."
That's the theme this year for Paskin, a defending county and regional champ. So far, he is 12-1 with four pins and two technical falls, his only loss coming by 4-1 to Carroll County champ and fifth-ranked Eric Hott.
"I think losing woke him up," said Howard's first-year coach Joe Thomas, formerly an assistant at Western Maryland and head coach at Glenelg until 1991.
"Technically, Eric's the best I've ever coached. He's aggressive on his feet and now realizes every match is big. If he faced Hott again, I think he'd win."
Paskin spent last summer with Maryland's junior national team and lifting weights. He got up to a 250-pound bench press and missed earning All-America status by one match.
Among Paskin's summer workout partners was Mount St. Joseph's Danny DeVivo, a Maryland Scholastic Association and National Prep champion.
"Competing at the national level definitely broadened Eric's range. A lot of county guys don't get involved in it," said DeVivo, a Highland resident and last year's All-Metro Wrestler of the Year. "It was a big step for Eric, and I think it's paying off."
Paskin returned to Howard a stronger, more cerebral wrestler, yet needing to improve his conditioning. Thomas and assistant Dan Ricker, formerly of Oakland Mills, have helped immensely.
"My conditioning was suspect until this year," said Paskin. "Now I work harder and my confidence is higher. I can turn it on in the final period instead of gassing out."
A pin and two decisions earned Paskin last year's county crown. Three more decisions, including a 3-2 win over Carroll County runner-up Charlie Conaway, made Paskin the North Region champion.
And he was 27-0 after 10-4 decision over Justin Ross of Eleanor Roosevelt in the first round of the state tournament.
Then the pressure of being ranked No. 6, having an unbeaten record, and possibly facing fourth-ranked and unbeaten John Chucoski of Linganore began to set in.
He wrestled tentatively in a 10-4 quarterfinal loss to Chesapeake's third-place regional finisher Steve Davis, who went on to lose the state-title bout, 8-0, to Chucoski.
Paskin was relegated to the consolation rounds where he ground out a 7-5 decision over Queen Anne's regional runner-up Josh Miller, a 7-3 win over Old Mill's regional champ Mike DiLeonardi, and a 9-4 victory over Northern's regional champ Sean Healey.
"I came so close to winning last year that it motivates me now. I can get mean if it's a head-banging situation, but mostly, I use my technique," Paskin said.
"I used to win most matches by a point, but Coach Ricker has shown me how to enforce my style on people and blow them out. This year, I'm going all the way."