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Brent Layman was a 135-pound state wrestling champion at Old Mill High and an All-American, but he nearly chose basketball over that sport.

"I played basketball until I was in the fifth grade, that's when I switched to wrestling," said Layman. "To me, it doesn't matter what sport it is -- I just like to play."

And he plays well -- very well. That's why Layman is the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1990-1991 Male Athlete of the Year.

Layman's athletic talents shined brightest on the wrestling mats, but he also shared in the state boys doubles tennis championship and was an All-County performer in soccer.

His interest in sports comes as no surprise -- his father, Larry, has been the athletic director at Prince George's County's Crossland High for 27 years.

"I have three sons, andI took them to a lot of different athletic events as children. We encouraged them to try all sports but never pushed them into anything,"said Suzanne Layman, Brent's mother.

"We have a big, half-acre yard, and we've got a (miniature) soccer field along the side of the house. And we have three girls living next door whom they've played softball with sometimes -- we've lost a few windows."

But the Laymans' losses have been the gain of Brent's coaches.

"What a great competitor he is. His three sports show that he's got the most diversified hand-eye coordination possible," said Old Mill tennis coach Randy Stevens. "I think that in all three sports, the one characteristic that helps him most is his finesse."

Old Mill soccer coach Don Hobbs said, "He has excellent ball-control skills and great intelligence. As far as knowing what the other player's going to do, he was very good at reading the game.

"He was a three-year varsity player and started his junior and senior year. He was a good playmaker and the first to get back on defense. He was a good role model for the kids and held the team together."

In the state tennis finals, two days afteran injury to his left thumb, Layman's overhead smash past his Wootton counterparts helped him and his doubles partner, Phil White, claim the third set of an 0-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

The win was Old Mill's first state tennis title and helped the duo complete a 23-0 season. They were named to the Washington Post's All-Metro team.

"We knew the thumb was bothering him, but we didn't know it was broken until after the tournament," White said of Layman, who now wears a cast. "He still had a nice forehand and a good chip-lob. It was a pleasure to play with Brent."

Said Stevens, "He was third in the county both his sophomore and junior seasons, and I think his success in the other sports carried over. He's definitely the hardest-working player I've ever coached."

Yet, as Layman's wrestling honors and last fall's All-County selection in soccer bring to light, tennis is just one sport -- and one area of interest -- among the many he enjoys.

While sports equipment always has been at Layman's fingertips, so have the keys of the family's Kimball upright piano. Layman began playing it insecond grade, right around the time he started rec soccer.

In fact, when the senior broke his thumb while playing softball in gym class the day before the state tennis championships, the fact that playing his favorite piece, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," might be affected was as much a concern as his two-fisted back hand.

"Piano is like his therapy, and I think he needs it before anything else," his mother said. "He plays in the morning, after studying, after dinner and during his quiet time. He's very talented and he's very good tohis mind and body. He always stays in good shape, both musically andphysically. It's all just part of his dexterity."

A "B" student who scored 1040 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test, Layman was even part of this year's senior fashion show.

"Anything to keep me busy, I've always got to be doing something," said Layman.

An excellent swimmer, he already has started a 40-hour-a-week summer job as a lifeguard at Pointer Ridge pool in Bowie. He also has a part-time position as a tennis instructor 12 to 15 hours per week.

Next winter, Laymanplans to wrestle at the University of Maryland as a walk-on. His older brother, Scott, was the kicker on Old Mill's football team and is finishing his senior year at Frostburg State.

"All three of my sons played tennis, soccer and wrestled when they were smaller," said Suzanne Layman. "They've played football and baseball and tried swimming, ice skating and roller skating. They even tried hockey when they were young, but they were riding bicycles."

While Layman was playing tennis this year, his younger brother, Brian, was playing lacrosse for the Patriots. Brian, a junior, also won a state wrestling title at 152 pounds and is Brent's teammate on the soccer and wrestling teams. Each was a first-team All-Metro selection by The Sun after helpingthis year's wrestling team win an unprecedented third Class 4A/3A state title.

On the mats, Brent won his second straight county and regional titles, compiling a 37-1-1 record with 22 pins and a school-record 147 takedowns. His only loss came by a close decision against atwo-time national prep champion. The draw came against a national prep runner-up, whom he had beaten earlier in the year.

Layman's career-record 218 takedowns eclipsed the old mark (164), and he also holds the school record for career pins with 31. A state runner-up during his junior year, when he finished 31-1, Layman's career record of 75-5-2 ranks seventh on Old Mill's all-time victory list.

"He's thefinest technician that I've ever coached," said 16th-year wrestling coach Mike Hampe. "He's got such a laid-back approach and doesn't getso excited that he's not going to do well."

Layman appeared a shoo-in to win the regional and state titles, but a knee injury after the county meet made the going a lot tougher. He could barely walk after winning the regional title over Oakland Mills' tough Brian Dunbar but still outclassed the field at the state tournament.

"After all of the practices and hard work, for an injury to come at that time ofthe season could have been devastating," said Hampe. "I knew he was tough, mentally, but the way he finished the year, he proved he was way above average."

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