You might say wrestler Matt Birth, 13, of Fallston, has an edge on the competition.

His two older brothers wrestle, and his father, Ed, a high school wrestler, often gives him pointers in the basement, where he keeps a wrestling mat.

Matt, an eighth-grader at Bel Air Middle School, has been wrestling for seven years in Harford County's recreational program. He won his first county title this year when he pinned all his opponents at the Harford County Junior Wrestling League Championships at Fallston High on Feb. 9.

Matt wrestles in the 112-pound junior division. He thinks that by next season, at Bel Air High, he will jump up one or two weight classes.

Matt and his brothers learn from each other.

Scott, 17, won this year's Harford County 119-pound championship for Bel Air High School. Chris, 19, wrestles for Navy, which is ranked 16th in the nation. Both began in the rec program.

"Chris knows a lot of things I've never seen before," said Scott. "He comes home and shows me moves and then I show Matt."

Matt is also trying to followhis brothers by making varsity as a freshman. Scott placed third in the county last year as a sophomore and was scheduled to wrestle in the regionals yesterday. Chris was state champion his junior year.

"I don't think he was really challenged (Feb. 9)," said Steve Hackett, one of Matt's coaches.

Matt, 11-0 on the season, pinned his first opponent in 25 seconds.

"The fact that he's coming in with experience gives him a big edge," said Bel Air varsity wrestling coach Gene Blizzard.

Patty Birth, Matt's mother, says she follows her sons' wrestling exploits closely, and she knows the nuances of the sport.

"Matt has become an intelligent wrestler rather than acting on his instincts," she said. "He sets them up and takes them down."

Matt says he wears a pair of red socks for good luck at meets. But his technique is what has caught the eye of coaches and opponents.

Through hours of waiting for his turn, he kept his concentration. He stayed patient, although admittedly a bit nervous. "You got

ta get psyched up," he said.

"He's really come into his own this season," said CoachHackett. "He's become a lot more intense."

Matt says he has to "cut" weight every day -- that is, burn off calories and pounds to meethis required minimum weight. He doesthat by either running or sitting in the sauna with Scott.

Looking to the future, Matt says, "I'd rather have the experience (of varsity) and be better in my sophomoreand junior year than wrestle junior varsity and not get much experience."

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