Sports

Grappling with adolescence

The outline of Washington state is as repetitive as wallpaper on the beige cement wall in the back of Maguire Wolf Den.

Each “state” represents past South Kitsap wrestlers who placed at Mat Classic. The first-place state features 11 different names. The outline to its left is third place, where “Matt Foxworthy ’07” is listed among the names.

On the mat, Foxworthy, a senior, sports a red, white and blue spandex singlet suit as “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme song to “Rocky,” plays. As with the fictional Philadelphia boxing hero, Foxworthy’s quest to success starts with training.

Jim Cutchall. Ron Coppinger. Dave Dyess. Dean Purdue. Lee MacDiarmid. Chad Nass. Tuan Nguyen. Stuart MacDiarmid. Derek Kipperberg. Brent Chriswell. Josiah Kipperberg.

Eleven state championships. Four decades.

The lists is long enough that another state was added to the right to include the newest members. Foxworthy is determined to make it a dozen.

Anything less is a disappointment. The 6-foot-5 Foxworthy still struggles to talk about football season, where he was considered the team’s best blocker by Coach D.J. Sigurdson, a first-team, all-Narrows League Bridge Division selection at tight end and part of the first senior class to lead the Wolves to state in five years. It’s the Nov. 9 playoff game — a 41-20 loss against Graham-Kapowsin — that keeps football off-topic. It’s just too painful to discuss.

But when it comes to wrestling, Foxworthy is more than willing to chat. He defeated Mount Vernon’s David Gay and Eastmont’s Erik Magnussen, who were considered two of the state’s top competitors at 215 to start the season, and enters the state tournament with 28 pins — many in less than 10 seconds — and a 34-0 record.

“He’s put together as dominant of a year as any wrestler we’ve ever had,” said Nass, whose coaching staff includes another former South state champion, Coppinger. “We’ve had some pretty dominant wrestlers.”

THE LONG ROAD

It wasn’t long ago that Foxworthy’s success seemed as distant as South winning 150 consecutive league matches since 1992. As a seventh-grader in Bellingham, he frequently ran into trouble with the law. His charges ranged from misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors for what he said involved fighting, marijuana possession and running away from home.

“I was getting in the wrong crowd and hanging out with the wrong kids,” he said. “I wasn’t competing in any of my sports anymore.”

His stepfather, Ken Laha, intervened. He spoke of a small town on the peninsula that featured a large high school with a rich sports tradition. Laha grew up in the area and the family was agreeable to the change. Foxworthy didn’t end up in Port Orchard until eighth grade, but joined the wrestling team at John Sedgwick Junior High late in the year. He played both football and wrestling the next season.

When he entered South as a sophomore, one of the first wrestlers he competed against was Brent Chriswell, a senior at the time. Chriswell won the state championship at 171 the season before and would complete his final year at 39-0 with 33 pins and a title at 189. He now competes at Arizona State University.

“At first I didn’t think he was going to be that big of a deal,” Foxworthy said. “I was the league champion at Sedgwick and I was going to show him what’s up. He had me on my back in like six seconds.”

Nass said it didn’t take long for Foxworthy’s competitiveness to emerge.

“He was really a big, top dog in junior high,” he said. “When he came up here ... Brent would hand it to Matt.

“Matt was immature and sometimes didn’t know how to handle that a whole lot. He never was a jerk to Brent, but he didn’t want to wrestle him a whole lot.”

Foxworthy strove to learn and mature from those setbacks.

Another came during South’s final practice of last season — just days before state — when Nass told him Laha had suffered a heart attack.

“My heart felt like it was stopping,” he said. “I was starting to cry and Coach Nass said they had him hooked to a machine and stabilized.”

There was another message his stepfather wanted Nass to relay: Get back to work.

Foxworthy accomplished that with wins in three of his first four matches at Mat Classic. At that point, it was time for him to meet Pasco senior Dimitri Miles, who defeated him earlier in the season at the Pacific Coast Invitational. This time, it was Foxworthy who wound up on top with a pin in 37 seconds to secure third place.

“I just said, ‘The next time I see him, I’m going to beat him,’ ” Foxworthy said.

His coaches often reminded him about the setback against Miles during workouts.

“I would be running on the stairs and they would be slapping me on the butt and saying, ‘What is Miles doing right now?” Foxworthy said.

Quiet and reserved, Coppinger rarely has much to say. He apparently has a sense of humor, though. The second state champion in school history — he won at 115 in 1977, a year after Jim Cutchall placed first at 275 — he has a trophy of his own. Courtesy of Coppinger, Foxworthy now has one that features a wrestler bent over a garbage can.

“He has kind of a queasy gut,” Nass said. “When he gets working hard, he gets a little lactic acid built up in his body and gets sick.”

Foxworthy’s retort comes is a famous quote from Socrates featured in his scrapbook: “I swear it upon Zeus an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.”

RESTLESS WRESTLER

Despite that, no one questions his commitment. It’s 1 a.m. and Foxworthy is restless. He thinks back to Miles and then to those he might see today, such as Rogers’ Jordan Waits. Just two years ago, he didn’t advance past sub-regionals. And just because defeated Waits at last weekend’s regionals doesn’t mean he’ll overlook him.

The right-hand on the clock sometimes moves to 2 a.m. or beyond. Has Foxworthy done everything possible to win? He goes online to study the moves of famous wrestlers Rulon Gardner and Cale Sanderson on YouTube.

Matt Miller, who placed seventh in the Mat Classic at 285 last year, returns to provide Foxworthy with another practice partner. Brad Feddersen, who qualified for state at 189 this year, is his other frequent sparring mate.

“I just try to give him a challenge,” Miller said. “He’s a really good wrestler, so I can’t show him a whole lot. Going against him last year is one of the reasons I think I did so well.”

Foxworthy enjoys tutoring wrestlers and works with South’s junior wrestling program. He plans to wrestle in college next year — possibly at North Idaho College or Utah Valley State — and wants to become a firefighter. Foxworthy said the work schedule would allow him to coach wrestling — preferably at a nearby junior high or South.

“Anytime you can have someone who’s done as well as him, you would like to have them,” Nass said. “That would be huge.

“Myself and my coaching staff are pretty much the same weight and wrestle the same style. It would be nice to have a bigger guy.”

Before that, Foxworthy has to add his legacy to the state. If he needs any extra motivation, he said Laha “made a deal that he’ll be full-on drag if I win the state title.”

He can’t believe that time already has arrived.

“I’m kind of sad it’s here already,” Foxworthy said. “I’m going to get a little choked up at the banquet. It’s going to be a lot easier to leave as a state champion, though.”

And as someone who has had the opportunity to mature.

“Coming here ...” Foxworthy’s voice trails off. “It changed my life.”

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