Smith settles in at McDonogh A tougher life: After two years at Liberty, wrestler Joe Smith transferred to McDonogh, where he has found more challenges.

February 16, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The ride is longer as are the days, and the challenges in both the classroom and on the wrestling mat are greater. Joe Smith is feeling right at home at McDonogh.

The junior transferred to the private school in Baltimore County last fall after attending Liberty the previous two years. He's settled in nicely.

"It's been easy. Everyone has been great welcoming me," he said. "I made some quick friends playing football and they introduced me to more and more. My wrestling coach [Pete Welch] also showed me around. Everyone accepted me and took me in as one of the guys."

On the wrestling mat, Smith, a 125-pounder, has been more than just one of the guys, taking a 17-6 record into this weekend's MIAA championship wrestling tournament at Mount St. Joseph.

"Joe's been doing a fantastic job," said Welch. "He's been everything we've expected and then some. His biggest asset is his work ethic. He's a great kid who's working hard and it's showing on the mat."

Smith's day starts at around 6:15 every morning when he spends some time on the stationary bike. Schools starts at 8:30 and runs until 2:40 with a two-hour practice starting at 3:40.

"And I'm starting on my homework around 7," he added.

Everything has been a little tougher at McDonogh and that's how Smith likes it.

"The biggest adjustment was in the classroom," he said. "At Liberty, I had a 4.0 [grade-point average] where at McDonogh I'm working harder and have a 3.6."

Wrestling has been the same. Earlier this month at the private schools state championships, Smith reached the finals and went up against DeMatha's Todd Beckerman, the nation's top-ranked pounder. Beckerman came away with a technical-fall win to raise his career mark to 189-1. Smith was happy to be there.

"He was just a rough-and-tumble kind of guy -- amazing," said Smith, who was seeded third in the tournament. "We knew at the beginning of the tournament I could get to the finals. Each match I just stuck with what I knew. I wrestled my heart out and got to the finals and there was Todd."

Smith tried a lot of other sports before dedicating himself to wrestling in the sixth grade.

"My dad and I always talked about wrestling. One day at the bottom of the sports page there were sign-ups. Dad just said 'You want to wrestle?' I said 'Sure.'" Smith said.

After wrestling in the Winfield Warriors program, he began going to freestyle practices at McDonogh during the spring and summer months just before he reached high school. That's what first caught his attention toward McDonogh and Welch.

"I wanted to go to McDonogh my freshman year. They were giving out some scholarships, but things didn't quite work out. This year, everything has worked out well," Smith said.

"Wrestling is a sport that requires a lot of dedication. I've already learned so much, and it's going to help me get in college. I want to go as far as I can in wrestling."

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