Quick study

Aberdeen's Chris Hoffman decided to give wrestling a try last year, and his whim has resulted in a 37-1 record this season at 112 pounds

Wrestling

March 04, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

Chris Hoffman loves to surpass other people's expectations of him.

For example, the sophomore joined the Aberdeen junior varsity football team for the first time last fall and started at center and nose guard despite being 5 feet 4 and 112 pounds.

And as a freshman last year, Hoffman went out for the varsity wrestling team despite being a novice in the sport. He picked things up quickly, however, and finished with a 22-13 record at 103 pounds.

After working tirelessly throughout the spring and summer to gain experience, Hoffman won his first 35 matches at 112 pounds this season.

He went on to win the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship before suffering his first loss of the season in the regionals. Still, Hoffman qualified for this weekend's state tournament with a 37-1 record and was ranked sixth in The Sun in his weight class.

"I caught on to wrestling. Wrestling's the sport for me," said Hoffman, whose nickname is "Beast." "It's great. My mind's on nothing but it. Before I go to sleep, I think about it. When I wake up, I think about it. When I'm eating, I think about it. That's it."

Hoffman's achievements are even more impressive when considering that most wrestlers who qualify for the state tournament have years of experience.

"I think what Chris [did is] rare because when you get to the level we are at now, at the state level, everybody's wrestled six, seven, eight, 10 years," Bel Air coach Craig Reddish said. "But I think that what Chris did is that he bought into it as a freshman. If there was an open tournament, [he] went in the offseason ... and it's paid dividends."

On the football field, Hoffman's size was the issue. But he had played center and nose guard in recreational football since he was 5, and he delighted in taking down much bigger linemen on a regular basis.

Football was his passion until Hoffman found wrestling last year. His father had asked him to try the sport a few times, but Hoffman always resisted. But something happened a few days before winter practice started in November 2005 that changed his mind.

Hoffman was standing in the hallway at school looking over information about the wrestling program and thinking about joining. That's when assistant coach Dick Slutzky, one of the state's most respected coaches, walked over.

"Hey, I'll see you on Monday," Slutzky told Hoffman. "I've been looking for you. I heard you were looking to come out. You'll be a good wrestler. I'll teach you."

That's all Hoffman needed to hear. He beat out a few other 103-pounders for the varsity starting spot and got off to a quick start, scoring a 17-2 technical fall in his first match.

Slutzky and others spent a lot of time teaching Hoffman the sport's basic moves. Hoffman relies heavily on those plus his speed and quickness to set the pace and control matches.

"I just figured it was something to keep him conditioned," his father, John Hoffman, said. "He is a natural athlete. He works hard, and he cares about what he does."

Hoffman finished fourth in last year's UCBAC tournament. He lost in the first round of the regionals, which left him hungry for greater success this season.

After the high school season was over, Hoffman wrestled with the Harford Grapplers team, went to tournaments with other local wrestlers and competed in 32 matches, learning all the time.

"I knew that winning matches in the offseason was going to be good for me," Hoffman said. "I wrestled a lot of kids, and I learned a lot of stuff. Letting them work me and beat me up [helped]."

Hoffman did not suffer his first loss this season until Broadneck's Houston Zemanski took a 6-1 decision in the second round of the Class 4A-3A East regional tournament.

Hoffman's third-place finish earned him his first trip to the state tournament. Brandon Frazier (130) was the only other Aberdeen wrestler to qualify, and he said Hoffman's work ethic has earned his teammates' respect.

It's why they call him "Beast."

"He's got confidence," Frazier said. "When you're on that mat, you have to have the confidence that you're going to go across there and whip his butt. I see that in his eyes."

Hoffman's lone regret about wrestling is that he didn't start sooner. But he won't let that lack of experience prevent him from achieving his goals.

"It just comes down to heart," Hoffman said. "I just put it on the football field and on the mat."

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