Bryan Martin loves wrestling.
And he’s never questioned whether the sport loves him back.
He’s had reasons to wonder, too. He missed nearly two years of youth wrestling with stress fractures in his back.
And his career at Williamstown High School has been abbreviated by injuries, as he missed most of his sophomore season and all of his junior season with a pair of broken thumbs.
“I think my body is used to it,” Martin said of his injuries. “I heal fast now.”
Martin, a senior 195-pounder for the Braves, has returned to the mat with a bang. He has been one of the early surprises of the South Jersey season, compiling a 14-0 record with some impressive victories over top opponents and casting himself as a legitimate contender for district, region and state acclaim.
“It’s like a movie,” Martin said. “It’s my time, my last hurrah. Coming out there and being able to wrestle again, it’s so different from watching.
“Just being in match, it’s a whole different atmosphere, an unbelievable feeling.”
Williamstown coach Jon Jernegan shakes his head in wonder at Martin’s dedication to the sport.
It’s not unusual for an athlete to miss a scholastic season with an injury. But Martin basically sat out the middle of his high school career.
Martin wrestled well as a freshman, winning 19 matches and taking third in districts. But he was able to wrestle just eight times as a sophomore and not at all as a junior.
“It’s just great to see him back healthy and wrestling so well,” Jernegan said. “He’s put in the work to make it happen.”
Martin was a top junior wrestler, twice winning state titles in youth competitions. He was diagnosed with stress fractures in his back when he was 11 and wasn’t able to compete for most of sixth and seventh grades.
That setback was an omen. He broke his left thumb early in his sophomore season, then broke a finger on his left hand, and fell during a training run and snapped his right thumb during preseason workouts as a junior.
“I had casts on both hands,” Martin said. “It was brutal. I would still come in every single day and watch my teammates practice, help coach them during matches.
“It hurt pretty bad. You just want to wrestle because that’s your favorite thing to do.”
Martin has plenty of strength and skill. But sitting out most of two seasons helped sharpen his understanding of the sport.
“I was watching kids all the time,” Martin said. “I don’t think I seriously started watching until junior year when I got hurt. I was watching high school, watching college, watching Olympics.
“That’s all I could do. I couldn’t practice, I figured I might as well just study the game.”
Martin believes he has been able to apply lessons from his observations to the mat.
“I don’t know what happened — maturity, I guess,” Martin said. “Everything I’ve seen throughout the years, all the moves and stuff, it’s just coming to me. It’s piecing together really well.”
Martin admits he was something of an unknown early in the season, since he’s been gone from the South Jersey wrestling scene for most of the last two years.
“Coming in, I’m an unknown guy,” Martin said. “It was kind of cool coming in as the underdog. I didn’t have the confidence right off the bat. But all those little wins, and then some big wins, it just built up my confidence.”
Martin has some impressive wins. He beat Overbrook senior Pasquale Locantore and Schalick junior Curtis Thomas, and scored a 3-1 decision over Delsea senior Tommy Maxwell, a state place-winner at 195 pounds last season.
Martin hopes to wrestle in college.
“That would be a dream and I think it might happen,” Martin said.
But his focus is making the most of his senior season, a long-awaited return to the mat.
He still loves wrestling. And nobody can convince him the sport doesn’t love him back.
“Never,” Martin said when asked if he ever considered walking away from the mat. “It’s funny, through all years you go to practice, and you hate practice, and you just want to get to the matches.
“But being away from the sport really pulled me into the sport. It made me realize how much I missed and loved the sport. I couldn’t do without it.
“I live, breath and sleep wrestling. That’s all I do.”
Matches to watch
Escape the Rock tournament
Saturday and Sunday at Council Rock (Pa.) South High School
This two-day individual tournament features some of the best wrestlers in New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond, with South Jersey squads such as Paulsboro, Delsea, Kingsway and Collingswood in the field.
Look for wrestlers such as Kingsway 138-pounder Quinn Kinner and Delsea 182-pounder Billy Janzer, a pair of top seeds and defending state champions, to make their mark along with top contenders such as Collingswood 126-pounder Andrew Clark, Paulsboro 170-pounder Brandon Green, Paulsboro 182-pounder Santino Morina and Collingswood 182-pounder Aaron Carter, among many others.