Nearly two full seasons on the mat and only a handful of varsity matches to his name, Matthew Hedrick found himself nearing a crossroads in his Portage wrestling career.
"I had it in my mind that if I didn't go in and do anything big, I was going to take my junior year off and try out for basketball," Hedrick said. "My dad (Sheby) played and I wanted to follow in his footsteps for a year."
Due to a surprising turn of events, the hoop dream never happened for the kid once called 'Good Burger' and '40 Percent,' for a poor work ethic. Fortunes did not look favorable for Hedrick last year when he cracked a rib.
Rather than hit the couch and snack drawer, he ran and dieted. Hedrick shed 11 pounds in two weeks, returning to practice with designs on the varsity spot at 195 pounds. Not only did he win the wrestle-off to make the sectional lineup, he won the title.
"It was the best feeling I ever had," he said. "I was living the dream. I thought I would be a first-round dropout. I was just happy to be there. I was hoping to come in fourth and qualify for the regional."
It was a quick comedown for Hedrick, who lost in the opening round of the regional, but the match had been lit.
"It was great knowing that if I kept the dedication, I could come back the next year and show I deserve to go to semistate, to start a legacy I hope I can finish off at state," he said.
Hedrick held down the 195 spot all season and defended his sectional crown. Last Saturday, he took the next step by winning the regional.
"If you would have told me he was going to be a sectional champion last year, and a sectional and regional champion this year, I would've told you you're crazy," Portage assistant coach Glenn Ballor said. "He turned it on at the end of the year. The only thing that motivates him is winning. He'll let us beat the tar out of him. The more he wins, the better he wrestles."
In a cockeyed way, Portage has WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) to thank. Hedrick started wrestling in eighth grade, thinking he could hit people with steel chairs. Seriously.
"It inspired me to do it," he said. "I'd never been to a meet. I was in for a big surprise. I always liked the adrenaline rush you get. The hard work, the time you put in, it kept me in shape."
As a freshman, Hedrick toiled on JV at 220. While it may not have seemed like much, a title at the Goshen JV tournament provided a big lift.
"It was the first time I took a (bracket) board home," he said. "The feeling of success I had, it made me really stick with it. I was able to showcase my talent. I showed what I had to offer."
Hedrick has benefitted from a full season of varsity experience that has included three matches with top 10 foes. He lost by just two points to top-ranked Tieshawn Johnson of Elkhart Memorial.
"Seeing how I stacked up against them, it gave me a lot of confidence," Hedrick said.
The self-proclaimed 'Dark Knight' stands 26-9, taking a string of nine wins into the Merrillville Semistate.
"Knowing everything's on the line, it makes me work harder," Hedrick said.
A ticket round match with No. 2 Morgan Kral of Crown Point likely looms.
"I tell my guys they have to cross that line belieiving they can win," Balllor said. "That's the key to winning. (Hedrick)'s been so close. I think he finally believed in the regional finals. He looked great. He was ready to go."