Randallstown's Johnny Montgomery quietly wrestled to a 29-1 record entering last year's state tournament, but this year, the All-Metro wrestler's message is loud and clear.
Montgomery, who was ranked No. 3 at 152 pounds all season, recently dropped to 145 and took the top ranking from McDonough's Damon Newsome entering this weekend's 4A-3A state meet.
"I know 145 is tough, but I'm confident and pumped up to win," said Montgomery, 17, who could earn a rematch with No. 2-ranked Newsome, whom he edged for the state title in overtime last year.
Over the last two weekends, Montgomery (30-1, 11 pins) secured his second straight county and Region I crowns. He won the county at 152 pounds, 5-0, over Loch Raven's fourth-ranked, two-time 2A-1A region champ, Mike Brammer.
At 145 for the regional, the Rams' Montgomery shut out three opponents by a combined 16-0, including 5-0 over last year's regional runner-up, fourth-ranked Neil Brennan (Westminster). He also won by 2-0 over Dundalk's second-ranked Rick Staab (29-1, 20 pins), last year's 140-pound regional and state champ.
Montgomery has two more pins than last year, with six in the first period and two technical falls.
"In practice, he just goes after kids," said Erik Cohen, Montgomery's co-coach with Jeff Langrehr. "Being state champ's an advantage for him. He's improved, and knows what to expect."
Others, such as county champs Kent Morrison (160, 20 pins) and Javin Rudolph (140), improve as Montgomery's teammates. Morrison is a two-time regional champ, and Rudolph, who was third, said, "If it wasn't for Johnny, I wouldn't be where I am."
Montgomery's technical style last year twice helped him to avenge an earlier loss to Eastern Vo-Tech's John Sieracki. One glance at his side of the 4A-3A state bracket, and the slender junior "knew it was time to open up."
His obstacles to the finals included Old Mill's John Bliss (26-0) and Lackey's Jason Batchelor (24-1) -- ranked Nos. 1 and 2 respectively -- and DuVal's Cornelius Boomer (24-2-1), the only one to have beaten Batchelor.
Montgomery's first-round bout -- and his ninth fall of the year -- took just 41 seconds, but his next three bouts were much tougher. He shut out Boomer, 5-0, before snatching a 2-0 semifinal decision from Batchelor -- a 2-1 winner over Bliss.
But Montgomery saved his best-kept secret -- a standing cradle -- for his 6-4 overtime win over Newsome. Leading 4-3 in regulation, Montgomery yielded a stalling point as time ran out.
Montgomery countered Newsome for the winning takedown. His effort earned him the No. 1 ranking after a season in the shadows of two-time state champion teammate Mike Jenson, now on a full scholarship at Rider University.
"Johnny's a perfectionist. He'll practice a move for weeks but never use it until it's right," said Langrehr. "He's a modest winner."
Montgomery, who has a B-average, has attracted attention from Rider, Maryland and Boston universities.
He opened the season by pinning his first couple of opponents in the Annapolis tournament before being humbled, 6-2, by McDonough's No. 2-ranked, state runner-up Chris Hawkins in the semifinals.
But Montgomery, 19-1 as a Milford Mill sophomore, shut out Old Mill's fifth-ranked Todd Hultgren for third place. He says he comes back stronger after a loss.
"As state champ, people see you differently. There's more pressure," said Montgomery, "and I want to get my hand raised again."