It appeared to be business as usual for three-time state wrestling champion Josh Asper in his season-opening match last week.
When the 171-pound senior standout from Hereford came away with a first-period pin over Catonsville's Eric Swaboda on Dec. 11, he extended his undefeated streak to 51 matches to help lead the No. 7 Bulls to a win.
When he left the mat, however, Asper was a little more tired than usual.
"I could definitely tell I was breathing heavier than I should have been for the first period. If I would have had to go all three periods, I would have definitely been exhausted," he said.
Asper is one of several area wrestlers - including three others at Hereford - playing catch-up after finishing an extended football season. The transition from the field to the mat is a challenge because of the differences in the mental and physical approach to the two sports.
Asper was a linebacker-running back for the Bulls, who reached the Class 3A state championship game Dec. 6, losing to Damascus of Montgomery County, 40-20.
After spending that night under the lights at M&T Bank Stadium, Asper was at practice the next day starting to shift into wrestling mode. His nonfootball-playing teammates already had been practicing for three weeks.
"The toughest adjustment for me is just getting back in wrestling shape," Asper said. "In football, you run for like 20 seconds maximum and then you get a break. In wrestling, you go for a much longer time and you use every single muscle. So you really have to get used to that."
The No. 15 River Hill wrestling team found itself in a similar - and, for the Hawks, familiar - situation. The football team has been to the state title game the past two seasons, this year defeating Eastern Tech, 14-7, on Dec. 8 for the program's first state championship.
The wrestling team was without four starters for the first three weeks of practice, but coach Brandon Lauer made adjustments to help ease the transition.
"Wrestling shape is six minutes all-out, and in-your-face type of attitude," he said. "We tried to simulate matches so they can gain their stamina and recognition of how tiring it actually is going six minutes."
River Hill's Scott Trench, a 171-pound junior, certainly can attest. After just one day of practice, he was able to take to the mat the next night and claim a 9-2 decision against his Mount Hebron opponent in the Hawks' season-opening match.
"Football, it's more of a lot of short bursts, a lot of strength and speed for a very short period of time. With wrestling, it's kind of like a grind - a lot of hard work," said Trench, who is 3-3 after placing sixth at the Lackey tournament last weekend.
"We just had a good practice the day before, and that helped me get some of my technique back. And then my coach was yelling instructions throughout the match on what to do because I was still a little rusty. I got an early lead on him - a couple of takedowns that really helped me push through."
To help compensate for the lost time and to try to keep from limiting the progress of his nonfootball-playing wrestlers, Hereford coach Ron Causey relies on assistants to put in extra time with the football players. He also leans on Asper's experience to help his teammates.
"It's not easy. It takes time and you have to sacrifice everybody else's progress to get them up to speed," Causey said. "It is what it is. I'm happy the football team was as successful as they were. It's wonderful. And it would be different if it was the end of the season. So you can deal with it because it's the beginning of the season - it's just a little difficult."
Asper and the Bulls will get a prime early-season test today when they host No. 2 Mount St. Joseph at 5 p.m.