Kyle Spruill will tell you that if he hadn't scuffled around for a couple of years after high school, he probably wouldn't be where he is today: a disciplined, dedicated athlete with a head start on a career and a kick-start into adulthood.
Spruill, the Apprentice School's pugnacious 149-pound wrestler, has found a home among a band of brothers who share the obligations unique to the Newport News shipyard's school.
"It's tough, but it's also enjoyable," Spruill said. "The great thing about it is, when you're wrestling with a team like this, they become like your brothers. You're living the same life for so long. You know how they feel on their worst days and they know how you feel on yours. It's a great thing."
Spruill has more good days than bad. The 22-year-old junior, a 2007 graduate of Lafayette High, puts in a full day's work at the shipyard — he is an outside machinist — before practicing and competing with the Builders' wrestling team.
He is the Builders' winningest wrestler this season, at 17-7 after Friday's matches at the annual Virginia Duals. He has a career record of 59-28 with a style that is more brawler than technician, owing to his side pursuit of Mixed Martial Arts fighting.
"He's more rough than he is skilled," said A-School coach Bruce Shumaker, who also coached Spruill at Lafayette, where he placed seventh in the Group AA state meet as a senior and fifth as a junior.
Spruill's current stint at the A-School is actually his second. With wrestling as the impetus, he enrolled after high school. He lasted two weeks.
"I was young," he said. "I was a punk. I didn't know what hard work was. I got my first pay stub and left."
For the next two years, Spruill worked odd jobs, coached a little, tried to make a buck.
"I realized, I've got to do something with my life," he said.
Spruill called Shumaker, who had taken over at the A-School. He asked if Shumaker had an opening on the wrestling team, and would he be willing to vouch for him to re-enroll?
"He told me, you've got to do two things," Spruill said. "You've got to never quit on me again and you've got to make 141 (pounds). I said, done and done. I told him I had quit quitting."
Shumaker said that he prefers coaching and working with young men who have a bit of life experience, because of the nature of Apprentice School demands.
"I don't mind them being 20 years old when they get here," Shumaker said. "There's too much distraction if they're an 18-year-old or a 19-year-old here. It makes a lot of sense for them to work a year or two and then get here."
Shumaker refers to Spruill as "Biggie" — a nickname that he bestowed on him in high school, to differentiate between him and teammate Kyle Parkinson.
Indeed, Spruill competes a little bigger than his 5-foot-4 frame. He changed his style from traditional wrestler to more of a brawler about a month into his sophomore year at the A-School. It fit his personality, his added strength and conditioning, and his affinity for MMA fighting. He first became interested in MMA as a sophomore in high school.
"I love the pure roughness of it," he said. "It's literally back to the gladiator days. Who's tougher than who. I think that's really, really cool. One day I thought, I'm tough enough to do that."
Spruill is one of five brothers from a couple of blended families. Their home eventually had a 10x10 mat and a 100-pound heavy bag in the basement. He and his brothers and teammates often worked out and mimicked what they saw in MMA fights.
"We beat each other up until we found out what worked and what didn't," he said.