One hundred and 58 times West Lincoln senior Matt Avery took the matâ€¦
And 158 times, he was better than his opponent and emerged with the win.
When Antonio Rojo, currently a wrestler for Appalachian State, set the Rebels school record for career victories with 154, conventional wisdom said it would probably be awhile before anyone broke it.
But conventional wisdom was wrong and with an 8-3 decision over Richard Sheppard Avery, at 140-pounds, established a new school record.
â€œItâ€™s indescribable, knowing youâ€™re the only person that has ever got that many wins. Itâ€™s kind of crazy. It definitely felt good,â€ Avery said.
Wrestling runs in Averyâ€™s bloodlines. His dad Bobby, cousins David and Chad and uncles Donald, Joe, Mike and John all wrestled for West Lincoln.
In his words of humility, Avery tried to â€˜just follow in their footsteps.â€™ He not only did that, but raised the already high standards of West Lincoln wrestling another notch.
â€œHeâ€™ll be remembered as a good wrestler, good person, good team leader, good student and a good captain,â€ Rebels head coach Butch Ross said.
While Ross holds Avery in high esteem, Avery has an attitude of gratitude when discussing what his head coach has meant to his career.
â€œI couldnâ€™t have done it without him– None of it really. Iâ€™ll call him for advice on different things with church and everyday things,â€ he said. â€œI can always look to him to give me good advice. Heâ€™s been like a second dad to me really. I see him everyday at school, so I look up to him a lot. He just sets a good example,â€ he added.
One of the most inspiring things about Avery is heâ€™s genuine and knows without the guidance of the Lord and his family supporting him, none of this would have been possible.
As talented as he is on the mat, heâ€™s just as humble and unassuming off it.
â€œI look to God everyday. I give every win to Him really. I pray before I go out there and when I get off the mat, tell Him Iâ€™m thankful to be able to do wrestle,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m grateful Iâ€™m healthy and I can do it. There are other guys that get out there and wrestle with one leg,â€ he added.
â€œHeâ€™s real high-character. He speaks a lot of times at our menâ€™s group at church. That says a whole lot for you, if they ask you to speak,â€ Ross, who attends church with Avery, said.
Avery not only brought character to the Rebels, he also brought solid leadership and encouragement.
â€œHe became a good leader among the boys, where he takes control, getting them up and getting them fired up,â€ Ross said. â€œIf somebody is loafing a little, he lifts them up without putting them down. Heâ€™s encouraging to them,â€ he added.
With strong faith serving as his vehicle to success, Avery also has had parents, Bobby and Donna, that have encouraged him each step of the way in the mentally-tough sport of wrestling.
â€œTheyâ€™ve just stood behind me the whole way. Nights I would be running, my dad would stay up with me and thatâ€™s kept me going,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m real fortunate to have the parents I got. They give me money to do this and do that. I feel grateful I have parents to look after me,â€ he added.
Senior night, although he didnâ€™t even wrestle due to forfeit, held a special place in Averyâ€™s heart because that was the first match Mary, his grandmother who was recovering from knee surgery, was able to attend this season.
â€œSheâ€™s just been there for me the whole time. Sheâ€™s the only one I can hear when Iâ€™m wrestling. I would run up the road and just stop by there to talk with her,â€ he said.
So did Avery, who was also a standout football player, believe he would one day hold the school record for most career victories?
â€œI kind of had my sights set on that goal. After my junior year, I knew I was ahead of his pace, but he (Antonio) went real far in tournaments, so I knew I had to have a good year,â€ he said.
Now he has his sights set on the Senior Nationals to be held March 23 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
by John Mark Brooks