Jake Sharp, only a sophomore at Beaufort High School, had not wrestled before this past season.
But he proved a quick study, pairing a natural athleticism and willingness to learn with technique picked up from Eagles coach Bill Damude and others. The newcomer won more than 30 matches his first season and set a school record for fastest pin, winning in seven seconds.
It's these types of success stories that keep Damude from falling into a coaching rut. He backed away for four years during the 1990s after his daughter was born but has rediscovered the joy in recent years.
His Eagles team finished 28-9 this season, up from 21-10 during the 2011 season. The Eagles' seven state qualifiers were up from five the previous season.
"The last few years, we've had a real close-knit group of guys," said Damude, the Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet Wrestling Coach of the Year. "And that's made a heck of a difference. I think a lot of that has to do with camaraderie the team has together. I know that makes my job easier, when you like being around the athletes and want to be around the team."
Damude said he has received a boost from the program's coaches, from the middle school level up through junior varsity. He said the Eagles have reached the varsity level more prepared after starting in the sport early. He noted that participation is up, with close to 40 wrestlers finishing the season.
Beaufort High's senior captains helped keep everyone together and motivated, Damude said. Maliek Maldonado finished runner-up at state. Thyrik Legree, who won 52 matches, and Lower State qualifier Clayton Wynn were the Eagles' senior starters.
Beaufort High was bumped from the first round of the Class 4-A playoffs by perennial power White Knoll after the Eagles again were foiled by region rival Summerville for a chance at a better seed. But the individual tournament competition brought more success. Beaufort High boasted five region champions, three Lower State champions and two second-place finishes at state.
Damude said he is encouraged by the Eagles' success at the younger levels. The middle school program finished top 10 in the state this season and the junior varsity program grabbed third, with multiple state champions.
Damude plans to continue motoring through his third decade at the helm.
"These last few years, it's really been fun," Damude said. "They're making it hard for me to walk away, which is a good thing."