Quinn Kinner wrestles the way some guys ride a skateboard.
Or play guitar.
The thing that makes the Kingsway athlete so special – besides his strength and skill and seemingly supernatural sense for the intricacies of his sport – is his ability to blend competitive fire with surfer-dude demeanor.
He is cool. He is calm. He is collected before a big bout, when he’s usually bopping to the beat of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” on his headphones. And he always is in control in the heat of the battle, too.
“I can’t relate,” Kingsway coach Mike Barikian said of Kinner’s remarkably relaxed approach. “I always needed to be in that zone.”
But here’s the other thing about Kinner, who earned the Inquirer’s senior boy athlete of the year award with a final scholastic season for the ages: He wasn’t always that way.
And in his typically insightful and introspective way, Kinner can pin-point the moment he changed from a promising bundle of junior-high nerves into the athlete who, by his senior season, would be the consensus No. 1 wrestler in the country at his weight class.
“It was the weirdest thing,” Kinner said. “I remember the exact day. I remember the exact spot when I sat down, talking to Trace [his one-year-older brother] and my dad [Bill], and it was just like, ‘What the heck is happening?’
“I was usually so nervous to wrestle, and I’m not feeling it right now. And I was thinking to myself, ‘Is it going to make me wrestle worse?’
“It was nuts. It felt good, and it felt exciting. But at the same time, it was confusing because I was so used to that fear being inside of me before every match.
“When I finally was able to let it go, it was awesome.”
Kinner was an eighth-grader at the time. He was talented young wrestler with a bright future.
But he took the first step toward becoming one of South Jersey’s all-time best when he left his fear on the side of the mat at the War at the Shore tournament in the Wildwood Convention Center and entered the circle without any extra weight on his shoulders.
“The funny thing about it is, when I was little, before every single match I would throw up,” Kinner said. “Every single match I had nerves that were so bad it would paralyze me.
“But that day, it went away. And it was so weird not to feel that fear, and I remembered that what I had been doing before that tournament was fun, and I just wanted to keep having fun.
“I learned it’s just about the passion of what you’re doing. There are so many super-talented guys that are paralyzed by fear and don’t ever reach their max potential.
“But I’m blessed with the ability to love what I’m doing so much that if I lose, I know it’s not the end of the world.”
Once Kinner lost his fear of losing, he rarely experienced it. He went 169-6 in his career at Kingsway.
He won a Region 8 title as a freshman. He placed third in the state as a sophomore. He won the 132-pound state title as a junior.
But all that was prologue to Kinner’s senior season. He went 44-0. He won the Beast of the East tournament in December. He won the Escape the Rock tournament in January. And he won another state title in March, capping a dominant tournament run at 138 pounds with an 11-2 victory over former state champion Jake Benner of Ocean Township in his last bout under the vaulted ceiling in Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“The thing that jumps out is that, with everything he’s accomplished, I think he’s just scratching the surface,” Barikian said of Kinner, who will continue his wrestling career at Big Ten power Ohio State. “His mindset, his approach, it’s going to translate to the next level.”
Kinner was raised in a wrestling family. He grew up rolling on mats with his brothers Trace and Cheyney, a Kingsway sophomore, under the eye of their father, a prominent youth coach.
Kinner’s uncle, Jack, is a long-time meet director of the state tournament in Atlantic City. Kinner’s great-grandfather, grandfather and great uncles all competed in the sport.
But while some youngsters might rebel against an environment saturated with one sport, Kinner embraced it.
“I just love wrestling,” Kinner said. “It builds character better than any sport I’ve ever seen. You become a man so fast in this sport. [Illinois star] Isaih Martinez talks about pushing himself to a dark place every single day.
“That’s what you have to do if you want to be your best. You have to push yourself to where you feel like you’re going to pass out and keep going.
“And the brotherhoods that you build in wrestling … This team, the teams I’ve been on the last four years, they will be my brothers for the rest of my life because of what we’ve gone through with each other.”
Kinner’s greatest trick is his ability to pair that passion for his sport with an easy-going approach that belies his competitiveness. One minute, he’s dancing to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” The next, he’s flattening some poor guy on his back.
“I know what people see on the outside with him being so relaxed,” Barikian said. “But he’s always ready to compete.”
The state championship bout was classic Kinner, the perfect end to the perfect season.
Wrestling against a former state champion, the Kingsway athlete was in complete control, controlling the bout with clinical precision. Despite the caliber of the opponent, despite the magnitude of the moment, Kinner looked like he was in Kingsway’s auxiliary gym, getting some extra work in after practice with Trace.
He was smooth and efficient, with no muss and no fuss. He was focused but never flustered.
It just happened to be the 175th and last bout of his career, with the state championship and his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greats on the line.
“No matter how much you hype it up in your mind or people hype it up, it’s still just a match,” Kinner said. “Worse-case scenario, you lose, and what is that in the grand scheme of your life?
“I’d rather go out there and enjoy every second of what I’m doing rather than make myself so nervous about losing.”
OTHER TOP SENIOR BOYS’ ATHLETES
Devin Leary, Timber Creek: He finished his career as the state’s all-time leader in career passing yards (9,672) and career touchdown passes (105). As a senior, he passed for 2,863 yards and 31 touchdowns as Timber Creek went 10-1 and reached the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals. He is a North Carolina State recruit.
Tommy Maxwell, Delsea: He was a first-team all-South Jersey selection as a center in football, helping the Crusaders to the South Jersey Group 3 title. In wrestling, he helped the Crusaders to another sectional and took 7th in the state with a 37-9 record at 195 pounds.
Antonio Mercado, Woodrow Wilson and Camden: In football, he was a top lineman for a Tigers team that won the WJFL Royal Division title and reached the South Jersey Group 3 finals. In wrestling for the Panthers, he went 26-4 at 285 pounds.
Lamar Price, Sterling: He was a second-team all-South Jersey lineman for a Silver Knights football team that went 8-2 and qualified for the South Jersey Group 2 tournament. In wrestling, he went 36-3 and took sixth in the state at 285 pounds.
Jake Topolski, Lenape: In football, he was a standout wide receiver and defensive back for a team that went 11-1 and captured the program’s first sectional title. In basketball, he was a starting guard and top defender. In baseball, he was an all-South Jersey infielder who batted .360 with seven home runs. He is a Duke recruit for baseball.
1977: Tracy Hall, Moorestown.
1978: Bryan Warrick, Burlington Township.
1979: Carl Lewis, Willingboro.
1980: Glenn Moore, Deptford.
1982: Tim Curry, Paul VI.
1983: Darrell Booker, Willingboro.
1984: Gordie Lockbaum, Glassboro.
1985: Sean Redman, Glassboro.
1986: Steve Rammel, West Deptford.
1987: Eddie Smith, Pemberton.
1988: Tony Sacca, Delran.
1989: Irv Smith, Pemberton.
1990: Gerard Reynolds, Willingboro.
1991: Damien Covington, Overbrook.
1992: Omar Cassidy, Woodrow Wilson.
1993: Bill Duff, Delran.
1994: Mike Koerner, Washington Township.
1995: Royce Reed, Bridgeton.
1996: Ron Dayne, Overbrook.
1997: Joe Crispin, Pitman.
1998: Howard Clark, Pennsauken.
1999: Doug Easlick, Cherokee.
2000: Kevin Eli, Deptford.
2001: Dajuan Wagner, Camden.
2002: Tom Curl, Paulsboro.
2003: Mike Morrison, Willingboro.
2004: Ryan Goodman, Absegami.
2005: None selected.
2006: Jack Corcoran, St. Joseph.
2007: Alex Silvestro, Paulsboro.
2008: None selected.
2009: Chris LaPierre, Shawnee.
2010: Tyler Powell, Cherokee.
2011: Damiere Byrd, Timber Creek.
2012: Pete Galiano, Camden Catholic.
2013: Dayshawn Reynolds, Atlantic City.
2014: Tom Flacco, Eastern.
2015: C.J. LaFragola, St. Joseph.
2016: Brad Hawkins, Camden.
2017: Jon Taylor, Salem.
2018: Quinn Kinner, Kingsway.
NOTE: In 1981, Willingboro’s Carol Lewis was the athlete of the year.