Josh Asper is hungry; most wrestlers are. But Asper's appetite leans less toward pizza than perfection on the mat. The Maryland senior craves an NCAA title this week, and his drive to win has awed his teammates.
During workouts, they shy away from pairing off with Asper, a Hereford alum who is ranked No. 2 in the country at 174 pounds.
"Nobody likes to drill with him because he goes 110 percent," said the Terps' Jimmy Sheptock, twice an Atlantic Coast Conference champ. "He'll take a billion shots to see what clicks. Wrestling a live match is less tiring than a practice with Josh."
"He's a machine, he's the Terminator," said Christian Boley, who also has two ACC titles. "Josh doesn't stop, and no one can really keep up with him."
A two-time All-American and the second-winningest wrestler in Maryland history, Asper never rests. He even competes in his sleep.
"I dream about winning the NCAAs," he said. "Usually, it's the end of the final match, I get a takedown at the buzzer to win it, and the crowd goes wild."
"I wake up."
Dreams can come true, say those who know Asper. A redshirt senior, he placed sixth in each of the past two NCAAs and is seeded fifth in this year's tourney, which begins its three-day run Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa. Four other Maryland wrestlers qualified: Sheptock, Boley, Frank Goodwin and Geoffrey Alexander.
Only two Terps have won NCAA titles before: Gobel Kline (152 pounds) in 1969 and Bob Kopnisky (157) in 1965.
"Can Josh win it? No doubt," Maryland coach Kerry McCoy said. "Josh is the total package. He's got a motor, strong hands, great footwork and an extreme work ethic. His style is pound away, pound away, attack, attack, attack. He's non-stop, a grinder, like the Energizer bunny."
That Asper (19-1) missed six weeks with a neck injury may help his tournament chances, his coach said.
"That [layoff] might be a blessing in disguise," McCoy said. "Josh is still fresh, whereas other guys are starting to taper down."
At Maryland, Asper's 152 career victories trail only three-time All American Hudson Taylor (165). Injuries (knee, neck and thumb) have sidelined him every year, the coach said, or he'd be No. 1 in wins.
"We wish we could have had him on the mat more," McCoy said. "Josh could be more durable, but if he hadn't been hurt, we wouldn't have seen his resilience and perseverance."
Asper has bounced back all his life. At 6, while riding his bike, he was struck by a car, thrown to the ground and flown by helicopter to Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was released three days later with a cut on his forehead.
"He had unending endurance as a kid," said Glenda Asper, his mother. "He was a handful, fearless, quick on his feet and always moving. You couldn't take your eyes off him for a minute. He climbed out of his playpen and hit his head on cement. The scrapes and bruises never slowed him down."
Jeff Asper recalled finding his three-year-old son clinging to the top of the kitchen door trim by his fingers and toes "like a koala bear." Soon after, the boy scaled the family's seven-foot privacy fence and was perched on top, watching the neighbor's pit bulls, when hauled down.
"I've never been afraid of getting hurt," Asper said. "It's amazing that I haven't been hurt worse."
While in high school, during a three-day hike with friends on the Appalachian Trail, he sprained his ankle badly and hobbled the last 11 miles, up hills and down, while lugging a 40-pound backpack.