As an 8-year-old wrestling with the Severna Park Green Hornets, Greg Wise was both the skinniest and the worst wrestler his father, Walt Wise, coached.
The way the older Wise tells it, Greg was basically a practicing dummy for the other 8-year-olds in the wrestling room.
"He was tall and lanky, and the little bulls would just throw him around," said Greg's first wrestling coach.
"I was terrible. I couldn't beat anybody," said Greg, now 19.
Back then, he was also a bit of a non-conformist. "I was kind of a screwball. I didn't like working too much. Where everyone else was working, I saw practice as a chance to screw off," he said.
That same scrawny, rebellious kid has just completed his first semester as a plebe at the Naval Academy. Greg Wise is the Midshipmen's No. 2 man at 158-pounds, ahead of eight other wrestlers.
A 1989 Old Mill graduate, Wise was one of only three two-time Class 4A-3A state champions the Patriots have had. He has already started seven times -- albeit with a 3-4 record -- for the Midshipmen, who are ranked No.
21 in the latest national wrestling poll.
Unlike the mischievous little guy he was 11 years ago, Wise is among the hardest working freshmen on Coach Reg Wicks' squad.
"He's one of the few plebes who maintains a daily lifting program, and he's pumping weights pretty hard," Wicks said. "We have about eight to 10 deep in his weight class and he's already competing and gaining experience at the varsity level."
Wise is sixth on the all-time win list at Old Mill with 82 victories. He capped his senior season with a first-period pin of Aberdeen's Tom Quigg in the Senior All-Star Wrestling Classic. Quigg was the Class 2A-1A 152-pound state champion.
Wise helped Old Mill coach Mike Hampe win his first Class 4A-3A state title two years ago. This year, Hampe, in his 16th season, is trying for a third straight state title, which he admits will be a tough chore without the likes of Wise.
"He was a great technician and he always knew how to attack the other guy. He was always in control," Hampe said. "And he had this tenacity and this unwillingness to lose. He hated to lose."
Every time the Patriots' wrestlers enter the Old Mill gymnasium for a match, they pass a wall of fame that is covered with imposing pictures of Wise and several other grapplers in the annals of Old Mill history.
Listed below the picture of Wise, who stands as if ready to go for a takedown, are his accomplishments. He ranks second in total near falls with 106, third in takedowns (104) and escapes (39) and fifth in reversals (37).
"I know collegiate wrestlers are prepared for takedowns, which he was very good at," Hampe said. "I know he's been having it rough at first, but he made the successful adjustment from junior leagues to high school and now he's got to make a new adjustment."
Wise spent a year with the Naval Academy's prep school in Rhode Island, where he compiled a 15-2 record primarily against junior varsity teams of other colleges.
"It helped me to get ready for life at the Naval Academy," he said.
Wise and junior Mike Christian, the No. 1 man at 158, are trying to fill a huge vacancy left by two-time All-American Scott Schleicher.
For the first time in a long while, however, Wise has had to measure his experience by several losses and a couple of injuries.
"I was rarely injured in high school, but I've got strained ligaments and a sprained ankle, both on my right leg," said Wise, who hopes to be ready by Dec. 28, when the Midshipman travel to Tampa, Fla., for the Sunshine Open Invitational. "I haven't practiced at all the past two weeks.
I drilled a little on Friday, but my leg was still a little tender. I hope to be ready to go by the end of the week or at least by the Sunshine Open."
Wise's injuries forced him to miss the Midshipmen's last match, Dec. 7, against Wilkes College. He earlier had finished with a 2-2 record in the Nov. 17 Navy Wrestling Classic tournament and 1-2 in the Cornell University Duals on Dec. 2.
Wise can recall making a few "high school" mistakes that led to the bouts he lost.
"I lost one, 6-1, because I couldn't get hand control," Wise said. "Then I lost another match, 10-2, when I had the legs in and let my head drop a little bit. The guy caught me in a five point (reversal). In high school I was always consistent. This is the first time I've experienced inconsistency."
"Once you get behind on the college level, it's tough to get back in the match mentally," Wicks said. "Greg's still learning to keep up the intensity the whole match through. At this stage in the game, I'm pleased with where he's at. His body's filling out, and I've seen a change.
"Down the road he could be No. 1. I know he has the desire to be."
Today, Wise is more of a conformist. At Navy, he has to be. Being on the wrestling team doesn't exclude him from the daily rigors of a plebe.
"Everybody has to stay on the same level academically," said Wise, who has a 3.0 average. "There's no leeway because you're an athlete."
Like the majority of his class, Greg is up at 5:30 every morning, "reading the newspapers, cleaning my room and learning what I need to for the day."
He has to be ready for the 6:30 a.m. come-arounds, a daily session in which the second class (juniors) quiz the fourth class (freshmen) on their knowledge of everything from naval aviation to the operations of the Marine Corps infantry.
A 7 a.m. breakfast is followed by classes at 7:55 a.m..
"Then there are come-arounds again at 11:45 and lunch at 12:10," Wise said. "I have classes until 3:05 and then wrestling practice at 3:45. I have dinner at about 6:15 or 6:30 and study until 11 p.m."
His course load includes calculus, history and chemistry. Wise completed his final exam of the semester, in naval leadership, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"The Naval Academy represents a whole helluva lot to my wife and I," Walt Wise said. "It's been our lifelong dream that Greg go there. Does he still screw up? Sure. And there are still some times when I'd like to choke him, but I'm proud of the young man Greg has turned out to be."