Ryan Lauer of River Hill learned quickly about the pressure of following an undefeated brother into the world of high school wrestling.
Last season, the Hawks wrestled perennial county power Hammond in a December dual meet, and, with his college freshman brother, Brandon, watching, Ryan walked over to check in at the scorer's table. That's when Golden Bears fans chanted, "You're not Brandon."
"I got a little upset," said Lauer, then a freshman. "I thought it was kind of harsh on their part. But it kind of drove me. I went out with more fire because of that. I took it pretty personal. I just didn't think they needed to do that. I was 14 years old."
Lauer scored a takedown on opponent Shawn Smith with a double leg move, and was leading 2-0 when his mouth hit Smith's hip. Lauer's four lower front teeth were knocked back at a 45-degree angle. He had to default the match.
His mother, Ellen, was summoned from a work-related Christmas party and drove him to the dentist.
"I told her about the chant on the way to the dentist and her eyes watered up," Lauer said.
He had four root canals to save the teeth. They eventually will require capping.
At this season's Hammond match, his mother was there this time - and nervous.
Lauer wrestled Smith again, and it was the first match of the meet, thus creating added pressure. This time, there was no chant. And Lauer won an 11-9 decision despite suffering from the initial stages of the flu.
"I was sick the next five or six days," Lauer said.
Brandon was a three-time state champion with a 111-0 record. So how do you follow perfection?
Ryan has asked himself that question more than a few times.
His answer when people ask him if he's as good as his brother is simple.
"I just tell people that I'm Ryan, not Brandon. And I just want to be accepted for who I am," Ryan said.
The 119-pound River Hill sophomore is a good wrestler. He's 18-10 and has helped the Hawks (19-3 overall, 9-0 Howard County league) win the county dual-meet championship, and the home-gym advantage in Wednesday's Class 4A-3A North Region dual-meet championship tournament.
In the unforgiving sport of wrestling, where there's no place to hide from the spotlight of individual failure, Lauer has a laid-back personality geared to deal not only with the normal pressure of facing a tough opponent, but with the inherent pressures of following a "perfect" older brother and being the son of the team's celebrated coach.
His father, Earl, has coached wrestling for 32 years, and his teams at River Hill have won three straight county tournaments and three of the past four dual-meet titles.
Ryan sometimes worries about how that coach/son relationship is perceived by his teammates. Is the coach showing favoritism? And then, if he performs poorly, he has to live with his coach not only at practice but at home.
But after an injury-shortened freshman season, the sophomore is on his way to becoming the eventual state-champion wrestler he hopes to be.
Ryan is much different than Brandon.
`They are night and day," said his mother. "Ryan is low maintenance. Brandon is high maintenance."
Their father agreed. "Ryan stops and smells the roses. Brandon doesn't know the roses are there," he said. "Ryan would just as soon watch cartoons on a Saturday morning. Brandon has to have something to do all the time."
Their wrestling styles are also dramatically different.
At 5 feet 9, Ryan is four inches taller than his brother and uses leverage moves, while Brandon relied on finesse, quickness and balance. Ryan likes to ride on top. Brandon, who is now a sophomore wrestling at West Virginia on an athletic scholarship, was strong on the bottom.
"Brandon started gymnastics at age 4 and that helped his balance," said Earl. "He also had quicker reaction time. Ryan doesn't have those innate skills, so he has to work harder. But mentally, he's determined like Brandon."
Ryan's 10 losses this season were all to such outstanding wrestlers as No. 2-ranked Mike Taylor of Harford Tech (twice), No. 3-ranked Rob Cooper of Owings Mills and No. 4-ranked Tim Hutchins of North Carroll. He twice lost to a Virginia wrestler who was No. 6 in the state. And he lost to three strong Pennsylvania wrestlers.
"For someone who only wrestled four weeks as a freshman, he's doing well," Earl said. "He's about to turn the corner."
Ryan has wrestled since he was 5 and has become accustomed to being coached by his father.
"I remember being excited and glad to be with my dad and brother when I was 5," he said. "There is pressure wrestling when your dad is the coach, but I try to think of myself wrestling for me and the team, not for him.
"He does put more pressure on me than the rest of the guys on the team, but that's understandable. He's always there to give me insight. Most guys only get a couple of hours with him. We go to tournaments out of state together. I've had him in my corner for as long as I can remember and that's enjoyable."
Earl, who has coached wrestling since 1971, when he taught at Atholton, is intense.
"He yells at me during a match when I mess up," Ryan said. "But after the match, he calmly lets me know what I did wrong. He tries not to show bias toward me. When he does get mad, you get a little scared. That's why we win. We're afraid he'll get mad. When he's happy, we're happy."
Wrestling isn't Ryan's only sport. He has lettered two seasons in cross country (also coached by his father), and he plans to try out for baseball this spring. He was unable to try out last spring because of a dislocated kneecap.
"You need some variety," Ryan said. "I've played baseball since tee-ball, and it's a lot of fun because you win or lose as a team."
He's a pitcher and outfielder.
He's also the Student Government Association treasurer and has a 3.4 cumulative grade-point average.
His goals are a 4.0 GPA and a state wrestling title.
"There's always room for improvement," he said.