CALUMET CITY | T.F. North junior Jamari Milton remembers his first wrestling practice as a freshman at T.F. North.
"It was very difficult and different," Milton said. "I was out of shape, and wrestling is just so much more disciplined. A lot of guys quit the first day.
"It took me a few weeks to get into shape."
He also remembers losing his second match last year at sectionals, thus eliminating him from a potential berth in the Class 2A state meet.
"As soon as I walked off that mat, I said to myself that I had to get better," Milton said. "I had to work on everything because I want to get to state. I have to get to that level."
The junior has been wrestling since his freshman year, while most high school wrestlers have been on the mat since they were able to walk. He is 7-7 this season.
"I know they have a lot of experience on me, but that doesn't mean I can't go out and try to get better," Milton said. "That is not an excuse. The more you wrestle, the more you work, the better chance you have at success."
It also took him some time to learn how to wrestle.
"At first, I tried to use my strength and not technique," Milton said. "I didn't do so well. Once I started to learn moves and use technique with strength, I started to get better."
North coach Rich Watson said Milton has put in the time and is trying to make up for his lack of time on the mat.
"He is getting better with every match he wrestles," Watson said of Milton. "What he lacks in experience and mat time, he makes up for with his energy and explosiveness. He starting to peak at the right time as we head into conference and the state series."
Milton said he is between 132 and 138 pounds and hasn't decided where he will wrestle come regional in February.
At 6-foot-1, Milton often wrestles opponents who are not as tall.
"For my weight, most of the guys are shorter and they have an advantage of coming in low and taking me down with my legs," Milton said. "I had to turn what was a disadvantage into an advantage. I had to learn to use my arms more and wrestle up top.
"That is what I mean about learning to wrestle. I have to learn to not leave myself open for someone to shoot at my legs."
Another disadvantage is there are no seniors on the team to work with him and his teammates, but he turned that into a plus.
"My freshman year there was a good group of seniors and we saw how they led and followed their leadership," Milton said. "As a junior, I am expected to lead. I wish there were some seniors to guide us, but us juniors, we have to work with the younger kids, and set the example. That means working hard in the wrestling room, being on time and encouraging them."