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Wrestling: 'Intense' Crawford coming out of Cavs' shadows

Wrestling: 'Intense' Crawford coming out of Cavs' shadows
South Carroll's Travis Crawford wrestles during the Carroll County Wrestling Tournament on Feb. 18, 2017, in Westminster. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO)

South Carroll wrestler Travis Crawford has an unusual routine.

Before each match, the junior slaps his legs twice, then his arms three times. His head gets a final three slaps.

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Crawford said the ritual is never done to intimidate opponents, but his coaches believe that’s the effect it has.

“He is one of the more intense competitors I have coached,” said South Carroll assistant coach Bryan Hamper, who served as Cavaliers head coach for the past nine seasons. “It starts with his pre-match warm up. He is getting fired up. It’s intimidating. He gets out there and gets in your face. He will push you around for six minutes. Some guys say, ‘It’s too intense for me.”

It seems to work, considering his career success.

Crawford, who came to South Carroll after his freshman year at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, has amassed a 62-1 record over the past two seasons. He captured a Class 2A-1A state championship at 120 pounds last winter.

“He is on track to win three state championships and break a lot of records along the way,” Hamper said of a wrestler who went 47-1 last year and also won a county title. “I think when it’s all said and done, I think we will be looking back at one of the top wrestlers in the history of our school. And our wrestling history is fantastic.”

Crawford is making the most of being in the spotlight this season.

Last year was kind of different.

He fell in line behind two South Carroll wrestlers who graduated, Joey Thomas and Jamar Williams.

Each won three career state titles. Thomas became the all-time wins leader for public school wrestlers and finished 195-5. Williams went 143-3.

“He was in a unique situation,” Hamper said about Crawford. “It’s not often that a guy has a one-loss season, wins a state title and gets overshadowed. Those guys had such remarkable seasons and careers that some people forgot about our other lightweights.”

For Crawford, he’s determined to match his accomplishments of last year — or exceed them — and make more of a name for himself along the way.

Crawford is 17-0 this season with 16 pins at 126 pounds, but he knows there are a lot of difficult matches ahead with the county and regional tournaments in February and the state tournament in March.

“I think this year I can get more accolades,” Crawford said. “Being behind three-time state champs, it’s kind of hard to look at a first-time state champ. I think this year will give me a chance to standout and get more respect.”

The 17-year-old Crawford said returning as a state champion has raised people’s expectations for him, and at times that can be a burden.

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“That’s a lot of pressure,” he explained. “I am expected to win states. That’s what I fully expect to do. I have to stay on top of my capabilities and just wrestle hard.”

It seems Crawford couldn’t have wrestled much better than he did in the South River Duals during the winter break.

He went 9-0 and recorded eight pins. All of them came in the first period.

“I feel people say, ‘That is crazy,’ but I have done it like 20 times in my career,” said Crawford, who has been wrestling for 10 years.

Crawford will also likely be challenged in the Franklin Tournament in Reisterstown next weekend.

“He will face a state runner-up,” Hamper said of Owings Mills’ Tyson McDuffy, who lost to Thomas in the state final last March. “And a couple of state placewinners. We are looking for that to be a litmus test of where he is right now.”

With Thomas and Williams gone, Crawford has also emerged as a team leader.

“He has taken on that leadership role and a lot of it is on Travis’ shoulders,” SC coach Matt Thomas said. “When the tempo is down in the room and everyone is sluggish, he will raise his voice and it’s only to push the kids. It brings the team as a whole together.”

Hamper said he’s seen the most growth from Crawford as a leader.

“He has gone out and gained the respect on and off the mat of the guys,” the coach said. “We don’t have any seniors. Our juniors are our leaders and he has really stepped up in that role.”

Crawford admits there was an adjustment period.

“I have not been a leader of a team,” he said. “There’s always been older guys. But I knew I would have to stay on top of the guys.”

Thomas feels Crawford’s dedication to the sport is what sets him apart from so many other wrestlers.

He’s been competing in the sport year-round for the past four years and wrestled seven years in the junior league ranks, including four with the Warhawks Wrestling club.

Crawford wrestled in about 50 matches in the offseason last year and participated in three national tournaments in Virginia and Pennsylvania during the summer.

“He is doing tournaments up and down the East Coast,” Thomas said. “This is what he lives for. It’s not just November to March. It’s January to December, year in and year out.”

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