For two long and difficult years, Bryan Martin watched top wrestlers in near-awe of their accomplishments.
Now, he’s taken their place.
Now, he’s excelling in the circle and others are looking at the Williamstown High School senior in the same starry-eyed way.
“Wow,” Martin said, pounding his chest as his emotions welled to the surface. “That’s unbelievable to me.”
The chiseled 195-pound athlete was overwhelmed Saturday night with the realization that he has crafted one of the more remarkable individual seasons in recent South Jersey wrestling history.
Martin went from virtual unknown in December – courtesy of spending nearly all of the last two seasons on the sideline with a pair of thumb injuries – to undefeated Region 8 champion who projects as the likely No. 1 seed in his weight class in the state championships that begin Friday in Atlantic City.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Martin said after earning a 6-3 decision over Delsea senior Tommy Maxwell in the Region 8 title bout at Egg Harbor Township. “To work so hard and come so far, it means everything to me. From the bottom of my heart.”
— Philip Anastasia (@PhilAnastasia) February 25, 2018
Williamstown coach Jon Jernegan notes that Martin was a top junior wrestler who flourished in state and national competitions before entering high school.
“He’s been in big matches before,” Jernegan said.
Still, Saturday night marked Martin’s first time on the big stage in a Williamstown singlet, as he faced the experienced and accomplished Maxwell in the center circle before a near-capacity crowd in Egg Harbor Township’s cavernous gymnasium.
“He wrestled smart,” Jernegan said of the taut bout that wasn’t decided until Martin’s takedown in the final seconds. “He controlled things. He didn’t force anything.”
But before this season, Martin’s only postseason tournament action for the Braves had been district competition and a short stay at the regions as a 152-pound freshman in 2015.
“Pinned,” Martin said of the outcome of his last bout at Egg Harbor Township before arriving Friday night as the undefeated top seed.
Now, Martin will enter Boardwalk Hall this Friday night in the same way – with a 36-0 record, as the likely top seed, as one of the guys on the floor under that vaulted ceiling that many of the close to 10,000 folks in the stands will be straining to see.
“I went and watched” the state championships the last two years, Martin said. “That’s all I could do. I couldn’t wrestle. I watched those guys. I tried to learn as much as I could.”
For every wrestler who will compete in the state championships, the long season has been compressed to one final weekend in the big building off the boardwalk in the seaside resort.
For every senior, the last act of their careers will play out.
For Martin, it’s all that and more. He has waited and waited. He has jammed nearly everything into this one season, which he plans to end on the top step of the podium Sunday afternoon.
“Can’t lose,” Martin said. “This is it. This is the last hurrah for me. There’s no margin for error, no ‘I can get ’em next year.’
“I have to leave it all out there. I have to get it done now.”
Wrestling state championships
Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Round of 32, 2:30 p.m.
Pre-quarterfinals, to follow
Wrestle-backs, 9 a.m.
Semifinals, 6 p.m.
Wrestle-backs, to follow
Wrestle-backs, 10 a.m.
Third-, fifth-, seventh-Place consolations to follow
Finals, 3 p.m.