Carlos Padua tried T-ball.
Not for him.
Padua tried basketball.
Definitely not for him.
In seventh grade, a couple of Padua’s pals encouraged him to try wrestling.
“I thought, ‘I’ll give it a week,’ ” Padua said. “That week has turned into the last five years of my life.”
Padua is Pennsauken’s Little Big Man. The junior wrestler is 7-0. He’s ranked No. 1 in South Jersey at 106 pounds by the website Wrestling Full Circle.
He’s on pace to become the Indians' leader in career victories and the school’s first wrestler with 100 wins by the end of this season.
And he’s only getting better -- on the mat, in the classroom. Everywhere.
“I’m far more focused than I ever was,” Padua said during a recent Pennsauken practice. “I know where my head is now. I know what I have to do and what my goals are.”
Padua was a good freshman and a better sophomore, winning a total of 63 bouts. But he’s taken his game to another level as a junior, thanks in large part to a fresh perspective on the sport and his life.
Padua pegs the positive change to his stay at the J Robinson Intensive Camp at Edinboro (Pa.) University in July.
“It was very difficult,” Padua said. "It was 6 o’clock wake-up every morning. It was like military school for wrestling. It was some of the most intense drill sessions, cardio sessions, weight-lifting sessions.
“It was a fantastic environment to be in. I loved it.”
Padua said the camp changed his life. He came home determined to become a better wrestler and a better student.
After struggling a bit with his grades as a freshman and sophomore, Padua has improved his grade-point average above the 3.0 mark as a junior, according to Pennsauken athletic director Eric Mossop.
“He’s set himself on the right path," Mossop said.
Padua said his issues in the classroom were his own fault.
“That’s on me,” Padua said. "I needed to sit back and reflect and realize that I needed to emulate the work ethic I have here in wrestling.”
Pennsauken coach Steve Wallace said Padua has become “immersed” in wrestling, with the sport serving as the focus of his life.
“He’s all wrestling,” Wallace said.
Padua’s style on the mat fits with Wallace’s approach: Attack.
“Even if I lose, I want the guy I was wrestling to remember me,” Padua said.
Padua won 26 bouts as a freshman but didn’t finish in the top three at the district tournament. He won 37 bouts last season, losing by 5-4 in the District 26 title match to eventual Region 7 champion Georgio Mazzeo of Paulsboro.
But at Region 7, Padua finished sixth, ending his season short of a trip to Atlantic City for the state championships.
“That eats at you,” Padua said.
Wallace said Padua is ready to take his place among the state’s top wrestlers in his weight class. Padua stands 5-foot-1. He’s quick, compact, and extremely strong for his weight.
“He’s the only kid I ever coached that sometimes we have to tell him not to lift [weights] so much,” Wallace said.
Padua’s success has become a family affair. When he started wrestling, his mother, Yvette, couldn’t sit in the stands and watch.
“She had to leave the room,” Padua said.
Now, she “still covers her eyes,” Padua said. But Padua is also supported by his father and grandparents, who travel to every match.
Padua knows that if he stays healthy, he likely will become Pennsauken’s all-time leader in wins before the end of this season. He also knows he has a chance to make his mark at the districts and regions and perhaps in Atlantic City as well.
He didn’t like baseball. He wasn’t built for basketball.
But he found his sport in wrestling.