With his team trailing by 14 points at Glenelg last week, River Hill coach Brandon Lauer looked at his three remaining wrestlers — seniors Logan Kirby (195) and Cory Daniel (220), and junior Tyler Smith (285) — and did the math.
"I rallied those last three guys and said we need 15 points, I don't care how it happens," said Lauer, who watched Kirby earn a tough decision over Glenelg's rugged Craig Burris, Daniel score a 30-second pin, and Smith pin as time expired to win the match, 34-33.
Lauer might not have said it at the time, but he was banking on six points from Daniel.
The University of North Carolina recruit has pinned 19 of his 21 opponents this season and won nine matches by forfeit. He has now won 72 straight matches, including county, region and state titles last year. He is 10 wins away from becoming River Hill's all-time wins leader.
"He's pretty automatic," Lauer said. "Cory is ready to compete and wrestle at a high level every time he steps onto the mat."
Daniel has only had to wrestle the full six minutes twice this year, a 3-1 decision over Huntingtown heavyweight Dalonte Holland on Dec. 21, and a 10-2 major decision over Mt. Hebron's Ryan Hassan on Jan. 9. Holland, a returning state finalist, is the top-ranked public school heavyweight in the state by the Maryland State Wrestling Association. Hassan, who placed fourth in the state last year, is the second-ranked public school 220-pounder. Daniel, not surprisingly, is ranked No. 1 overall at 220, and would likely be ranked No. 1 at heavyweight as well.
"He's got goals. He wants to go undefeated, but he also wants to be challenged," Lauer said.
Last year, after having his hand raised as an undefeated state champion, Daniel went out of his way to push himself even harder.
"I knew if I wanted to be completely dominant as a senior I had to put in a lot more offseason work," said Daniel, who has been wrestling since kindergarten, and was already a devoted summer workout warrior.
In addition to spending time with River Hill's in-house offseason club, Team Penguin, Daniel traveled south to practice with the University of Maryland's Division I athletes at the Terrapin Wrestling Club.
"At first I was a little intimidated, but after a few weeks I felt more comfortable," said Daniel, who will join Centennial four-time state champion Nathan Kraisser on the Tarheels next year.
Over the summer, Daniel also competed at the FILA Junior Nationals in Las Vegas. There he found the challenge he was looking for, even taking a first-period pin to former North Dakota state champion Brandon Larson, a high school graduate at the time.
"It wasn't discouraging at all to me. Going out there, I had nothing to lose," said Daniel, a seven-time high school All-American.
And when he came back to Maryland, Daniel's drive to improve was stronger than ever. It helps that throughout high school, he has never had to look far for an elite practice partner. Logan Kirby, a two-time county champion and state finalist, has been pushing Daniel in the practice room since both started on varsity as freshmen.
"He's been a huge help to me and we go at each other everyday and push each other really hard," Daniel said.
Lauer is grateful to be able to square Daniel and Kirby off and watch them improve.
"You're only as good as your training partners, and it's a challenge if you lack that," said Lauer, a three-time undefeated state champion at River Hill and collegiate All-American at West Virginia.
Soon after graduation, Daniel's preparation to fill out as a college heavyweight will begin.
"He started at 145 (as a freshman) so he's still learning to wrestle in his body," Lauer said. "Cory wrestles well when he's not cutting weight. I think he can grow into the weight class. He loves to lift. By the time he graduates college he's going to look totally different physically. The trend in college is a big, strong, athletic heavyweight, and not someone who's just maxing out the scales and is hard to score on."
Daniel, who learned good nutrition at an early age from his father Jack — a former Paint Branch wrestler who now owns a construction business — sees a lot of steak, chicken and pasta in his future.
"I could eat whatever I want," said Daniel, a two-time first team all-county football tight end. "Immediately after the season I have to hit the weight room four or five times a week. I want to put on 15 to 20 pounds before college."
Daniel still hasn't given up his football dreams, planning to try out for an NFL team after college.
"I ultimately chose wrestling because I knew if I played football in college I would never wrestle again, and I definitely didn't want to give it up just like that," he said.
Fittingly, the local wrestler who Daniel is most easily compared to is Wilde Lake 220-pound state champ Zach Brown, now a starting linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.
Brown "was physically gifted. It was like a man wrestling boys," Lauer said. "He was also incredibly athletic. Obviously, he's in the NFL now ... Cory is more technically sound" than Brown was.
While Lauer will lament the loss of Daniel and Kirby, both families have blessed the River Hill athletic community with more offspring in the pipeline.
Junior Brian Kirby is a returning county champion, and Brady Daniel (160) has already won 20 matches as a freshman.
"He's definitely a lot more mature than I was at that age," Cory Daniel said. "I always knew he was going to live up to the expectations."
Although Daniel is on the verge of joining elite company if he can win his third county title and second state title in the next month, he is more concerned about his duties as team captain for the time being.
"I'm really excited to see how we're going to do in the postseason, we've been getting a lot better," he said. "We're going to try to go to North Point and bring home a state dual championship."