Damian Gomez learned the value of hard work by watching his mom raise three boys alone.
Damian's older brother was born when his mom was just 15, and the single mom from East Chicago has worked steadily to keep her boys determined and dedicated in whatever they choose to do.
The work ethic instilled in her middle son, Damian, has translated to the wrestling mat where he has come from relative obscurity to become Bishop Noll's first state qualifier in the sport since 2003.
"Nobody helped her," Gomez said. "I'm doing my best to get good grades and do good things in wrestling so I can get a scholarship and go to college so that it's all worth it for her, everything she sacrificed for me and my brothers."
A junior in high school whose father chose not to be a part of the family, Gomez does a lot to help watch over his younger brother. He was supposed to take his driving exam this Thursday, but instead he'll be preparing to put his 29-8 record on the line against Terre Haute South senior Tsali Lough (44-2) in the first round of the 160-pound state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Last season Gomez was wrestling for E.C. Central at 171 pounds. He went 18-7 and made it to the regional round after a third-place finish at the sectional, but no one saw him coming this year.
He transferred to Bishop Noll, using the newly instituted voucher system for assistance with tuition to attend the school whose entrance exam he enthusiastically passed as a St. Stanislaus eighth-grader.
Gomez had attended Catholic school for grades 1-8 but did not have tuition money for his freshman year.
Now Noll is celebrating the achievements of one of its newer student-athletes, and teachers are including him in prayers.
"The school is excited for him," fifth-year Warriors coach Brian Hrabovsky said. "There's a lot of buzz around the school. This is definitely going to help the program. It's going to inspire kids to work harder to see that you can go from regional qualifier to state qualifier in one year if you put in enough hard work."
Only a handful of opponents have taken Gomez down this year. Noll had just three wrestlers make it to the regional, but most of the wrestlers stayed for practice after their elimination.
Gomez improved his technique and conditioning by running a drill called Shark Tank. Ten rested wrestlers come at him one at a time for one minute each, resulting in 10 continuous minutes of wrestling for him. Gomez often does several Shark Tank drills in a row with only a two-minute break and no water between them.
That helped him avenge regular-season losses to foes from Lake Central and Munster to win the East Chicago Sectional on his former home turf.
Gomez placed third at the Calumet Regional and was no sure thing for state.
At the Merrillville Semistate he wrestled what Hrabovsky called the match of his life and scored a 6-4 win against heavily favored Dusty Schurg of Crown Point in the ticket round and finished fourth to become the first Warrior to qualify for state since Steve Chico in 2003.
"It feels like a dream come true right now, but I know I still need to take it one match at a time if I want to place at state," Gomez said.
"I have to continue to focus."
His mom and family, including several cousins with wrestling backgrounds, will be in Indianapolis making sure Damian keeps achieving his goals.
"My mom always tells me to keep God first, family second and sports third, and everything will fall into place," Gomez said. "I just have to have the determination to strive and keep going.
"Everyone keeps telling me I've got to wrestle as if it's my last day to ever wrestle, and that's what I'm going to do."