WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Paul Watkins, North Forsyth
Already, Paul Watkins is on a mission.
It has been state-title-or-bust for the North Forsyth wrestler ever since his high school wrestling career started two years ago, and the sophomore has been getting closer and closer, from third as a freshman to second this past season, one in which he conquered just about everything he could: he won an area championship, placed first at the state sectionals and finished 44-3 with only one of his losses coming to a wrestler in Georgia.
But about that loss – it was a sobering one for Watkins, a 7-3 decision to Camden County’s Brandon Orum in the Class 7A finals at 120 pounds at the GHSA Traditional Wrestling State Tournament in mid-February after Watkins had defeated Orum earlier in the season. Moments after, Watkins had already scrutinized his performance, vowing to use a better variety of attack moves going forward.
The calendar has barely turned a month, but Watkins has already taken measures to prepare himself for next season. He’s started a new workout regimen five days a week and feeling stronger, and he’s started to practice different attack moves at Compound Wrestling in Buford three times a week.
“I feel like the loss to state has definitely fueled me to start training harder,” Watkins said.
Watkins will get to see the early results of his efforts at the 28th Annual NHSCA National Wrestling Championships in Virginia Beach, Va., later this month. He’s participated before but never placed.
“It’s never a good feeling going in and not reaching your goals,” Watkins said. “I really want to place this year, and I think I can do it.”
What surprised you the most this season?
Watkins: “Going into the season I never thought I’d be down at 120 in the first place. I was at 126, and my weight just kept dropping. I got down to 124, and I thought, 120 will be easy. So I started making that cut.
Who was the toughest wrestler you faced?
Watkins: “In dual matches, I would have to say Rex McDaniel from North Gwinnett. I always had a close match with him, because I’ve wrestled with him since I was 7 or 8. We know each other pretty well. It’s always a tough match between us.
“He’s crazy long. Like his arms and legs, he’s like 6-feet tall. I don’t know if he’s 6-feet, but he feels like it for sure.”
What was your favorite match?
Watkins: “Our first tournament of the year. I was wrestling really bad against a Cass kid. I got down 7-1 going into the third period and I came back and won 10-8.
“There were some bad calls. I knew I could beat the kid. He wasn’t on my level, and I knew that. I just had to keep my mindset, and I came back and just started scoring points one after the other. I just focused on scoring the next point.”
What was your favorite team dual of the season?
Watkins: “Oh, for sure, against Mountain View for third at state. That was awesome. That came right down to the second to last match, and we had to keep off every bonus point we could. It was awesome, because there were people really gutting out matches and trying to keep from giving up one more point. It was fun.”