A stacked list of Austin Pollard's wrestling accomplishments would be almost as tall as he is.
A sampling: He's a 2012 Virginia Duals national champion and a three-time (2012, 2011, 2010) Virginia state champion. He's a 2011 triple crown winner, claiming USA, AAU and Virginia Challenge state titles. He is a two-time (2011 and 2012) outstanding wrestler in his division at the AAU state tournament. He was the outstanding wrestler at the 2011-12 and the 2010-11 National Holiday Duals at the Boo Williams Sportsplex and at the 2011 Dale Duals in Chester, and he was the 2010 Eastern State Cats Cradle Champion.
He's also 8 eight years old, and his usual weight class is 44 pounds – though he has wrestled up to 65.
Austin is unlike most anything Eric Decker has ever seen.
"At this level, what makes him special is the fact that he truly enjoys it and loves it," said Decker, coach of the Peninsula Wrestling Association and at Poquoson High. "What makes him good isn't so technical. It's just the fact that he wrestles extremely hard and gets after it."
Decker spoke during one of two weekly training sessions Austin attends at Poquoson High's wrestling facility, as older boys warmed up on the mats, surrounded by trophies and humidity. Austin and Decker also work together one-on-one once a week, and have been a team for more than a year.
"I didn't know how old he was when I first saw him, but he was coming in, and after workouts, he would keep running around and doing pull-ups, all on his own," Decker said. "His dad would have to tell him, 'We have to go,' because he just doesn't want to stop working out.
"The first thing I thought when I saw him was that he was just a little animal."
Off the mat, Austin, who lives in Yorktown, is shy, with a sweet smile. He doesn't brag about his accomplishments, but he does paw through a bag filled with medals brought by his dad, Jason Pollard, in search of one particular championship belt – which has no hope of fitting around his tiny waist – that he wants to show off.
Jason, a former wrestler who also tried his hand at mixed martial arts, said Austin first started wrestling at age 4, and the sport proved to be a perfect outlet for his energy, physicality and surprising strength.
"He would be in tears if I didn't let him train or exercise or do something every single day," Jason said. " … I think that he likes, more than anything, the training and the hard work. He's always trying to push himself and see what new things he can do."
Austin can't choose just one thing he likes the most about wrestling, but he does hope to wrestle through high school and college and then maybe coach. He also plays baseball, but wrestling is hands-down his favorite sport.
On the mat, the shy, sweet boy is transformed, Decker said.
"He'll rip your head off," Decker said. "He gets extremely intense when he competes. In practice, he's always smiling. He's a totally different person (competing). He's a ball of energy."
Decker grew up in a wrestling hotbed in upstate New York, around the likes of Tory Nickerson, a four-time All-American at Cornell and a 2012 Olympic hopeful, and J.P. O'Connor, a three-time All-American at Harvard who went 35-0 and won an NCAA title as a senior in 2010. A collegiate wrestler at Virginia Tech and at Old Dominion, Decker has seen his share of talent – and how that talent can be abused.
"In our sport in particular, there are a lot of psychopaths," Decker said. "They burn their kids out and make them hate the sport. (Austin's) dad is nothing but loving towards him. In a lot of ways, it's the polar opposite of what we see a lot of. He shows nothing but love.
"He even tells his son, when he speaks to him, he says 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir.' I kind of chuckled about it, and he said, 'Well, you know, you can tell a kid to do something a million times, but if you yourself do it once, they pick it up just like that.' His dad is very respectful, and he passes that on."
Jason and Austin's mutual respect helps buffer the harsher realities of competition. Jason recalls a two-day stretch in 2011, when Austin went 7-0 at the Dale Duals, then hopped in the car for a non-stop drive to North Carolina, where he went 7-0 the next morning at the Hurricane Duals.
"I think some of it does come from his genes, but he's just got a drive," Jason said. "There's no quit. There's no fear when he wrestles."
Not even when there aren't enough – or any – competitors in his weight class, and Austin has to wrestle bigger, older boys.
"I asked him, 'Austin, what are you thinking when you look across the mat and see this guy a foot or two feet taller?' " Jason said. "He told me, 'Just that I'm going to beat him.' "
That competitive drive is apparently just part of Austin's makeup. "I'm good at video games," he volunteers.
"He is 150 percent at everything he does," Jason said. "He definitely tires his mom (Julie) out. I couldn't keep up with him."
Jason said Austin will keep wrestling as long as he's having fun. Based on what he's seen, Decker thinks that could be a pretty long time.
"The sky's the limit for him. He could be the next really great thing from this area for wrestling," Decker said. " … The fear I have with any kid when they're young and good is them burning out, but I don't see it happening because of the relationship he has with the sport, and also with his father."
Austin Pollard, 8, puts effort and heart into wrestling
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