Wrestling and school may not seem to have much in common.
When Hebron junior Brandon Sanchez learned the two actually have plenty of similarities, he unlocked the door to success in both.
"Wrestling helped me a lot with what was going on," Sanchez said. "I've learned how to set goals, what I need to do. Having a plan for a match is helping me set goals for real life. If you want to go far, you can't give up on what you want to do. You've got to earn what you're working for."
The process has not come quickly or easily for Sanchez. He left the team as a freshman, struggling with his grades and his wrestling.
"I wasn't ready for the hard work," he said. "It was a whole other level I wasn't prepared for. I didn't realize how important (school) was."
That summer, Sanchez asked to return to the team, assuring Hawks coach Todd Adamczyk he had gotten his priorities in order.
"The message we send to kids is you're here for school first and wrestling second," Adamczyk said. "You can use wrestling as a vehicle to make you successful in the classroom.
"He was still struggling in school. We had to make sure he was turning things in, getting things done, but you could see the progress. He was getting it. Sometimes he's still got to get a kick in the pants, but he's definitely understanding the accountability of it. It's not just about him anymore. He would be letting his team down, too."
In the classroom, Sanchez began to seek help when he didn't understand, rather than give up.
"I'm realizing I'm getting closer to graduation. I have to get ready to face the real world," he said. "I needed to buckle down, man up, face facts. Grades are first more than anything."
On the mat, Sanchez also found the value of opening his ears.
"I was doing my own thing," he said. "I realized if I listened to coach, things actually fall into place a lot more. He's always there, helping me out. I'm taking it more seriously. I'm accepting the pain and going for more. I've improved so much, especially my takedowns and confidence."
After finishing 18-19 last season at 220 pounds, Sanchez is 20-8 this year at heavyweight, competing at about 235 pounds.
"The light bulb went on," Adamczyk said. "Before, the things we'd work on in practice, shouting from the side of the mat in a match, he wasn't doing. Now it's, hey, coach actually knows what he's talking about. He finally started to figure out, if I do the things he tells me to do, I'll have more success. He's buying into what we're coaching. He knows what's at stake. He has something to lose."
It's not an easy situation for Sanchez, who has no true practice partners. Hebron's next heaviest wrestler is 160-pound Tony Fritsch. Adamczyk is close to Sanchez's size, but can't drill with him for long durations.
"I've never had anybody close to my weight class," Sanchez said. "Most of our big guys are on the basketball team."
Sanchez is seeded third for Saturday's Crown Point Sectional. While Adamczyk hopes he can qualify for the regional with a top-four finish, Sanchez is aiming higher.
"Last year was my first time in a sectional," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting second or first. It's some of the same guys, but I still want to win, to make it to the top."
No matter what, Sanchez likes the direction he's headed.
"I'm looking for a more positive year, next year," he said. "School, grades, wrestling. It'll be my last year. I'm going for it."