At age 15, Laurel's Mansur Abdul-Malik is one of the top high school wrestlers in the state of Maryland, and he's just getting started. "Every day I want to get better," Abdul-Malik said. "I want one day to be known."
On May 11, Abdul-Malik qualified for the 2013 Maryland National Team by placing first in the 195-pound cadet division at the Maryland Freestyle/Greco-Roman State Championships.
As one of 96 wrestlers on the team, he will compete in July at the Asics/Vaughan Junior and Cadet National Championships in Fargo, N.D.
The qualification has been the peak of an already successful year for Abdul-Malik, who also placed first at the 2013 Dundalk Battle for the Banner, an open tournament, and at the Eastern National Middle Atlantic Wrestling Association Championship in Salisbury, in the 189-pound division.
"It's another stepping stone for me," Abdul-Malik said about making the national team. "It's really a far jump that I've made."
Abdul-Malik wants to take first place in Fargo this summer, but his ambitions are loftier than that.
He hopes to become a high school All-American, graduate from college on a wrestling scholarship, win a gold medal in the 2020 Olympics and become a UFC champion.
"I'm looking forward to big leaps and bounds," he said.
Abdul-Malik is the eldest son in a household of nine children, whose ages range from two to 21.
The freshman has been home schooled for his entire life by his parents, Eric Clark and Kariyma Knox-Clark.
Clark said that home schooling has been successful for his children thus far, and that the family as a whole is academically and athletically gifted.
"[Mansur's] success is a reflection of all the kids," Clark said.
Abdul-Malik began participating in mixed martial arts (MMA) at age three, and in 2007 he joined Ground Control, a Mixed Martial Arts academy in Columbia.
He was awarded a junior black belt in 2009, when he was 12 years old, and he was subsequently offered a chance to participate in Ground Control's adult classes, where he earned a ju-jitsu orange belt.
His passion for MMA eventually led him to wrestling.
"I want to pursue MMA one day," Abdul-Malik said. "I picked up a few things [at Ground Control], and I saw how wrestling was really important to MMA."
Abdul-Malik joined the Laurel Boys and Girls Club Wildcats wrestling team in 2011, going undefeated at 34-0 and becoming the 2011-2012 Southern Maryland Junior Wrestling League Heavyweight Champion.
"I love it," Abdul-Malik said of TWC. "They teach you attitude, how to take wins and losses and how to get back up."
In recent months, St. Vincent Pallotti wrestling coach Andrew Lacroix has become an important mentor to Abdul-Malik.
He has trained with Lacroix since November, attending private workouts and practices with the Pallotti wrestling team.
"[Mansur's] work ethic and the way that he loves the sport is pretty rare," Lacroix said, calling him "a coach's dream."
Abdul-Malik is mature enough to take winning and losing at face value, Lacroix said, and he'll "train until his knuckles bleed."
"It's a shame he's not competing with a program," he said.
Abdul-Malik called Pallotti a "great school," but he said that he's sticking with the home school track for now.
"We're staying focused on this, not trying to get too overzealous," Abdul-Malik said.
Abdul-Malik likes being home schooled because it has taught him discipline, while giving him more freedom to get his work done.
Even during busy days filled with schoolwork and multiple workouts, he still finds time to relax by playing Xbox and spending time with his brothers.
With the national championships just weeks away, Abdul-Malik's work is just beginning.
"It's going to get harder and harder," he said.
Lacroix said he's excited to help Abdul-Malik as his training regimen gets more intense.
"He's looking to do big damage," Lacroix said.
Success in Fargo may be Abdul-Malik's current priority, but Clark thinks that his son's gifts and work ethic will benefit him in the long run.
"I'm just very pleased to see he's matured as a young man," Clark said. "He recognizes this can help him get to another level in life, academics and athletics."