On a job well done

John Carroll heavyweight John Von Paris, ranked No. 2 in the state, overlooks personal injuries, records in pursuit of victory for his team

Wrestling

January 21, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

John Carroll heavyweight John Von Paris rolled his ankle in an early-round match of last weekend's Edgewood wrestling tournament. He battled through the pain, finished the match and pinned his opponent.

But the ankle turned purple overnight, alarming his parents, who wondered if Von Paris should skip the tournament's final day. Von Paris never considered it, and laughed when John Carroll coach Keith Watson broached the idea.

"I'm wrestling," he said. "That's my job."

It's a job he does well. Von Paris, 6 feet 3 inches tall and 245 pounds, improved to 24-0 by winning that day, helping No. 12 John Carroll claim the tournament title. The senior and second-year captain has blossomed into one of the area's top heavyweights -- despite never wrestling before high school.

Von Paris took up the sport as a freshman and went 15-3 on junior varsity before a back injury suffered while playing football sidelined him as a sophomore. He joined the varsity squad last year and went 38-8, including second-place finishes at the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and state independent schools tournaments.

This year has been even better. Von Paris earned 10 wins in one week earlier this month, four of which helped the Patriots win the Edgewood tournament title.

"He's coming from a kid that didn't even know wrestling had a `w' in it to the No. 2-ranked kid in the state," Watson said. "Nobody that I've coached in 18 years has come that far."

Watson said the success comes from hard work and a willingness to learn and practice. Von Paris has spent countless hours in the weight room getting stronger and on the mat learning the sport.

Assistant coaches Tom Reese and Jake Hollin wrestled in college and have worked to bring out Von Paris' talent. Hollin wrestled at Florida State, and Reese was an All-American at heavyweight for Maryland.

"No matter what I throw at him, he's up for the challenge," Reese said. "It's amazing. He's up for everything."

The first challenge was learning wrestling. Football was Von Paris' sport before wrestling. But after Von Paris played junior varsity football in ninth grade, Hollin (also a football assistant) suggested to some players that wrestling would help them stay in shape over the winter.

"I was for it," Von Paris said. "I know my dad wrestled at John Carroll, and he loved it. It was definitely tough. I was practicing with seniors, and it was not easy at first ... but I grew into it."

John Von Paris Sr. wrestled for four seasons at John Carroll before graduating in 1977. He was 10-2 at 157 pounds in his senior year.

"He's bigger than me," Von Paris Sr. said. "I give him advice every once in awhile, but I backed off a while ago because he's got much more knowledge than I ever had -- plus, he's got excellent coaches."

The younger Von Paris said he has grown as a wrestler but remains cautious on the mat. He waits for the right opportunities to make a move.

"I'm conservative as a wrestler," Von Paris said. "I take chances when I have to, but I'm really boring to watch. If I'm ahead and I don't have to get a pin, I don't go for it. I don't want to give anyone an opening."

But all of the learning could stop this year. Football remains Von Paris' favorite sport, and a number of colleges are recruiting him to play, most likely at defensive end. He has a 3.86 grade point average, has been offered an appointment to West Point, and is looking at a number of schools.

Von Paris will represent the Patriots at the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Banquet in March. He said he would consider wrestling in college, but football likely will come first.

"I never thought I'd get to this point," Von Paris said. "I still don't feel completely comfortable. I guess I'm somewhat happy with how far I am."

Von Paris is happier that the Patriots had a 30-8 record through the middle of last week. He enjoys talking more about the program than himself.

It was his dedication to the team that kept him going after injuring his ankle at Edgewood. He eventually saw a doctor who diagnosed the injury as a bad sprain, limiting Von Paris to mostly conditioning work last week.

Von Paris said was trying to help his team rather than worrying about his record. When asked about his record, he wasn't sure of the numbers.

Said Watson: "He's big, he's strong, he's athletic, he's coachable ... he's got good balance, and he doesn't have an ego."

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