Broadneck's Shawn Miller wrestled scared last year.
But aftera summer of free-for-alls with his older brother, 1988 state champion Dale Miller, Shawn has become the proverbial bully of the 112-poundweight class.
"Last year, I wrestled 112 even though I only weighed 106. I was lucky if I could pin anybody," said Miller, who is the top seed with a 24-0 record, heading into tomorrow's county tournament. "I always thought everyone else had an advantage over me. I'd lookat the bigger guys, and I'd get scared."
Miller has grown into the 112-pound class this season and now goes after his opponents like Mike Tyson throws haymakers -- with mean intentions.
"I wasn't a pinner last year, but I've bulked up, and I'm stronger this year," saidMiller, who last year was a county champ, a Region IV runner-up and third-place finisher in the Class 4A/3A state tournament.
"Shawn wrestled 112 last year because (103-pound state runner-up Jason Berger) was a senior at 103," said eighth-year Broadneck coach John Mayberry. "I'm not sure who would have won if I had made him wrestle off with Jason, but Shawn's a solid 112-pounder now."
And a dominant one.
No wrestler in Maryland has dominated his weight class like Miller, a bundle of tenacity who either can baffle an opponent with his technical abilities or simply overpower him with his pressure and consistency.
Miller's size disadvantage forced him into more of a defensive, finesse style last year, but teammates now say he is as intensein practice as he is in a match.
"When we're working takedowns inpractice, you might get one on him, but he'll give you a cross-face that you'll never forget," said Miller's teammate, Roy Brazeau, himself a fine 119-pound wrestler with a 23-3 record (16 pins). "He's good for us. He keeps us mean."
Mayberry said, "I'd put my lightweights up against the best in the state -- they really butt heads in practice, and sometimes it can get pretty nasty. But Shawn is the nastiest of them all. There were some times in matches where I thought he might hurt some kids, but it's just his style to be a physical wrestler."
Unyielding on the mat, Miller has disposed of his opponents with bruising efficiency. The 16-year-old junior has 19 pins, three decisions and two forfeit victories. He has pinned a dozen opponents in the first period, half a dozen in the second, with another being decked in the third.
So impressive are the credentials of this dark-haired junior, that he is top-ranked at 112 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association,ahead of Paint Branch's Craig Middledorf and Overlea's Kevin Heid -- the 103-pound state champions in Class 4A/3A and 2A/1A, respectively,last year.
The Annapolis tournament in late December represented a gut-check for Miller, who won the title even while wrestling with a 2-inch long laceration in the middle of his left hand.
"The tournament was Friday, and I busted my hand in ceramics class on Monday. I didn't get to practice for a whole week, so I was really out of shape," said Miller, who maintains a "B" average at Broadneck. "I just got my hand taped up by my trainer, and I basically had to wrestle with one arm."
Still, Miller defeated Oakland Mills' No. 4-ranked Danny Bickell, 3-0, and No. 3-ranked Middledorf, 7-3, nearly pinning Middledorf in the closing seconds of their championship bout.
Miller's victory over Middledorf avenged the defeat of former teammate Jason Berger who lost, 3-1, to Middledorf in last year's 103-pound state final.
"We thought Shawn might have some problems with Middledorf because Middledorf is probably the strongest 112-pounderin the state," said Mayberry. "But after that, we knew Shawn could go with anybody."
Miller since has pinned his way to titles in a Sterling (Va.) tournament and the Broadneck Invitational.
Miller took just 30 seconds to pin Owings Mills' fifth-ranked Kenny Gendason ina preseason tournament. That victory came long before Gendason's major-decision victory over sixth-ranked Heid.
In going for the county tournament title, Miller expects to get his toughest challenge fromSouth River's Bill Whitcher (22-4), over whom Miller won a tough 6-2decision last Friday.
Whitcher's only other losses all came by decision against Chopticon's No. 2-ranked Jeff Daigle, a Class 2A/1A state runner-up last year.
"I wrestled junior leagues with (Whither)so he knows me pretty well. That's why he was able to wrestle so smart against me, getting wrist control," said Miller. "I'll have to tryharder in the county tournament. But beating Middledorf gave me a lot of incentive. I feel like I can try to do what my brother did."
During his junior year, Dale used two pins, a technical fall and a decision to go 37-0 for the 105-pound state title. Dale and Andy Claxton (138), another individual titlist, led the the Bruins to the team crown.
Shawn tries to emulate Dale's style, sometimes engaging the 19-year-old, 133-pounder in free-for-alls that can end up in fistfights.
"I wrestled my brother all summer to see who was the man of the house. We're very competitive," said Miller. "My brother's an upper-body wrestler -- he likes to throw people. So that helps me with my balance."
Last Tuesday, the Bruins (13-1) crushed two-time Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference champion St. Mary's, 54-7.
Although he was wrestling up a weight class at 119, Miller displayed his usual pinning power. St. Mary's Chris Chase became his 18th pin victim, succumbing in 1 minute, 21 seconds for Miller's 12th first-period pin.
Afterward, Miller's thoughts drifted back to last year's state tournament quarterfinals, where he suffered his most embarrassing loss of his high school career -- a 17-2 technical fall defeat to North Carroll's Tommy Dell, the eventual state tournament runner-up.
The memory fades Miller's dimpled smile into an impish smirk.
"What happened against Tommy. . . . I'd never been tech-falled in my life," said Miller, still shaking his head in disbelief nearly a year later. "It was hard to come back from that."
Yet, he rebounded impressively, beginning with the consolation semifinals where he handed C. Milton Wright's highly touted Chris Vacek just his fourth loss of the season in overtime. Miller earned third place by hammering Frederick's Trevor Doing, 13-5, to cap the season with a 32-4 record.
Miller began wrestling in the Millersville Wrestling Association when hewas 5. There were also stints with the Severna Park and South River youth leagues.
A once-sour junior-league rivalry with No. 6-rankedteammate Charlie Bennett (103) has developed into a solid, yet competitive friendship.
"We've wrestled together for years, and we usedto hate each other," said Miller. "Each of us was a three-time junior-league state champion, and we're still very competitive in practice."
"He kills me whenever we wrestle in practice," said Bennett, owner of a 24-1 record and an outside shot at a state title. "He's got that cross-face that you don't expect -- it catches you off guard every time."