Athlete Spotlight: Sam Wilkins
Mount Anthony junior wrestler Sam Wilkins has never been the biggest guy. In fact, he's wrestling in the 195-pound weight class but he's closer to 180 pounds when he steps on the scale.
But a slight size disadvantage hasn't stopped Wilkins from reaching the top.
Last season, Wilkins won 60 matches en route to his first New England title.
In February, Wilkins will try to win a third straight state championship — only 14 wrestlers in Mount Anthony history have done it.
This season, after rolling through his bracket at the Mount Anthony tournament, Wilkins is 22-1 and poised to defend his New England title.
Wilkins came into the Banner to talk about repeating as champion, coming back from a loss and being confident.
Banner: Last year you became the newest Mount Anthony wrestler to win the New England championship. How has your season gone so far this year?
Wilkins: The season started off pretty well, I've had a lot of tough matches, which is good. I've wrestled some tough kids from New York. I had a good tournament at Londonderry (N.H.), saw one of the top kids at New Englands there at my weight (Ed note: He beat Londonderry's Ben Psaledas, 5-0, in the finals).
Banner: After winning the Lowell Holidays last season, this year you finished second, losing 3-2 in an ultimate tie-breaker.
Wilkins: Lowell was a huge tournament for me and I ended up not doing as well as I wanted. I didn't wrestle the match I wanted, and I didn't win the match.
Banner: The Lowell Holidays is a really big tournament, 75 teams, like a New Englands at the end of December. Do you prepare for that tournament the same way as you do for New Englands?
Wilkins: I definitely think when New Englands comes (in March), we're just at that level, we've been through the whole season. But Lowell is very similar, just as big, just as hard. It's just different because it's at the beginning of the season.
Banner: Your only loss this year was to a two-time New England champion, Paul Calo, from Southington, Conn. You were injured in the match and had to medically forfeit. How has that loss refocused you as the season goes on?
Wilkins: My freshman year, he tech-falled me, I didn't score a point on him, he was a lot better than me. But this time, I went in a little nervous, but once I realized I could wrestle with him, I started coming back and scoring points. Then he whipped his head back, caught me in the mouth, my teeth were out of place, I had to push them back. Burns [assistant coach Jeremy] had handfuls of my blood, he thought I was going to spit out teeth! I really wanted to finish the match, but I couldn't. It wasn't worth losing my teeth over, but it's something I'm ready to come back for later.
Banner: You've won the state championship as both a freshman and a sophomore, and still have an opportunity to be a four-time champion, something only five people from Mount Anthony have done. What does it mean to have the chance to win four state titles?
Wilkins: Honestly, I didn't see myself getting here. My whole life, I've been wrestling and looking forward to being in high school just so I could be one of the Mount Anthony wrestlers, that's always been something I've looked forward to. To be a four-timer at Mount Anthony is just a whole other level, I still can't imagine it. It's awesome to know that I'm one of the guys, I just pictured myself as a Mount Anthony wrestler, not one of THE Mount Anthony wrestlers.
Banner: Take me through last year and winning the New England title.
Wilkins: Last year, going into New Englands, I was thinking I can win it, I hope to win it, but if I don't, I still have next season and the season after that. Winning isn't something that I need to do, it's not the only thing I pursue. I love having great wrestling matches, I had four great matches at New Englands. The first one went to triple overtime, I won the second by two points, the third was to the only kid that beat me and then the finals was huge.
Neither one of us was projected to be in the final. I had confidence going in, sometimes I just keep calm and I can handle it.
Banner: Now you have the bulls-eye on your back.
Wilkins: I didn't really think of it as a bulls-eye, but now that you say it, I understand what you mean [laughing]. It doesn't really faze me, I'm there to wrestle, I'm not there to worry about who I have to wrestle or worry about another New England title. I want to go out, wrestle my match and if I can, then I can win.
Banner: You've had great training partners in the wrestling room. How do they help you become a top competitor?
Wilkins: Chris [Mayer, 220-pounder] and Hayden [Gaudette, 285-pounder] wrestle very similar, they're brothers. They are both really strong, which gives me the opportunity to see what my matches are going to be like. At [my weight class], I'm still 10 or 15 pounds under. We all know that we have to wrestle bigger guys, so we wrestle each other at a faster pace, that's the technique we use. We have to be more technical and stay focused. We push each other every day in the room.
Banner: Without giving away too many secrets, what's your go-to move?
Wilkins: I think most people know that my go-to is a blast double leg, I always end up finding the gap, seeing the hole where I can in and finish the takedown.
Banner: What do you want to do when you graduate from Mount Anthony?
Wilkins: I'd like to be an AT [athletic trainer] after high school, go to college for that. I've always been interested in that, so I'm taking strength and conditioning next semester with [Bob Kurtzner], so that should be good.
Banner: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Wilkins: A lot of my free time probably goes to video games, I play a lot of sports games. Music is an everyday thing, going through the halls with my earbuds in.
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