Taking quick hold of a sport

Wrestling: The elimination of indoor track at Francis Scott Key sent Tony Morris to the mat, and he's making up for lost time.

January 12, 2003|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Francis Scott Key's Tony Morris got taken to school in his first match last weekend at the Garrett County Invitational wrestling meet. Adam Brandt of Linganore had little trouble with Morris, scoring a technical fall in the 171-pound bout in a 16-1 win that ended in the third period.

As fate would have it, Morris wound up facing Brandt again several hours later in the fifth-place match. Morris conferred with teammates and coach Bill Hyson and received advice about getting better position and trying to move better on his feet. Make him come to you, everyone told him.

That's just what Morris did, and it worked beautifully. He scored the first takedown, jumped to a 5-0 lead and pinned Brandt at 4:26.

Not a bad turnaround for a senior who's only in his first year of wrestling.

Despite his lack of experience, Morris jumped right into the Francis Scott Key starting lineup and has posted an 11-6 record, becoming one of Carroll County's biggest surprises this year.

Morris ran distance events and high-jumped on the indoor track team the previous two winters. He had thought about coming over to wrestling, but didn't do it until this year, when the school didn't field an indoor track team.

"I looked at it first as a way to keep in shape and add muscular endurance for outdoor track," Morris said. "But they told me there was an opening at 171, and I thought I'd have a shot."

Mike Mayberry graduated after wrestling at 171 last year. Josh Smith competed at 171 on the JV, but moved up to 189 this season, so Hyson needed someone to fill the spot. Morris picked up the sport quickly and has given the Eagles (5-1) some crucial points in the early-season matches.

Hyson said he has never, in his 24 years of coaching, seen anyone fare this well this fast.

"He's got all of the things that you look for in an athlete," Hyson said. "He's a competitor. We keep teasing him that we're going to go back and check his transcript. ... If we had him for three or four years, I think he'd be competing at a high level."

Said South Carroll coach Dennis Frazier: "That's hard to do. I think he's doing a good job for them."

Over the previous few years, Hyson had occasionally talked with Morris about becoming a wrestler. In fact, Morris nearly came out two years ago, but a lost bet with track teammate Ron Shriver prevented it.

The pair agreed to wrestle during the open-mat competitions the school holds just before the team's practices start in November. If Shriver won, Morris would have to go to track. If Morris won, he'd become a wrestler. Shriver pinned Morris and kept him on the track team.

But there was no choice this winter. Indoor track wasn't a possibility at Key, so Morris moved to the mat.

"I'm playing a lot of catch-up, trying to learn the basics and compete," Morris said. "I think I could have done better if I had gotten started earlier."

Hyson and Morris both give credit to Key teammates who have worked hard to teach the senior the ropes. Gage Rindt, Lee Crowl and Josh Kellemen are among those who have spent countless hours with Morris, helping before and after practice to make him more comfortable on the mat.

Rindt (152 pounds, 16-1) knows what it's like to start late. He didn't take up the sport until the eighth grade -- many wrestlers start as early as 5. Rindt credited Morris' ability to quickly understand and then use something he's taught as a big reason for his fast success.

"Tony's a really, really quick learner," Rindt said. "You show him a move and the next match he'll be doing it. He doesn't stay still like a lot of first-year wrestlers. Tony's always moving, and when he's on the mat is always aware of where [he's at]."

Hyson also said that Morris' success has been a positive influence on the rest of the Key team.

"The kids are seeing that, hey, here's this kid who's starting out at the very beginning and he's having success," Hyson said. "He's staying with his fundamentals and is getting better each day."

Hyson is hoping Morris will find postseason success. The coach is optimistic the senior will earn enough points to qualify for the regionals, something they'll know later this season.

Morris probably won't be wrestling in college because the schools he's looking at don't have varsity programs, so this is likely his only season on the mat. That's why experiences like the turnaround against Brandt become so special, because they offer proof of how far he's come so fast.

"I just didn't expect this," Morris said. "I was a little scared in the early matches, but the team kept me motivated. I just wonder what might have happened if I had [started earlier]."

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