When some of his buddies recruited Lloyd Cox to wrestle for Lake Clifton two years ago, he had little idea he would reach the level he has in the sport.
Now a senior, he is routinely mentioned as one of Baltimore City's top wrestlers and among the favorites to bring home the city's first individual state crown.
Cox, ranked No. 6 in the state at 140 pounds, and Dunbar wrestlers Bruce Pendles (130) and Hermondoz Thompson (140-145) were state place-winners last year.
The three seniors will compete in tomorrow's Friends Tournament, with Cox at 7-0 with four pins, Pendles at 5-0 with four pins and Thompson at 8-1 with five pins and two technical falls. Thompson, who usually wrestles at 145, is dropping to 140 to challenge Cox.
Others among the city's best are Dunbar's fifth-ranked Lydell Henry (152), Carver's city champ Rob Horton (160) and Poly wrestlers Tony Bridges (103-112) and Darnell Dezurn (171).
City schools began wrestling in the state association two years ago, with Keir Hicks (145) of Southwestern becoming their first regional champ, and the city getting a state runner-up and three fourth-place finishes.
Last year, the city produced six regional champs, three state runners-up, two third-place finishers and two fourth-place finishers.
"People say they expect me not only to place, but to win the states," said Cox, whose 23-7 record last year included 10 pins, one against Harford County champ Bryan Stewart (Bel Air).
Cox was a champion in the city and region tournaments and placed fourth in the state last year. This season, he won the Eastside Tournament after finishing second the previous year.
"I have a goal of placing in the states," said Cox. "I want to win, but I'm not getting a big head about it."
Pendles, however, exudes confidence.
"I tell myself, 'Nothing can stop me but me,' " he said. "This year, I'm wrestling like an animal."
As a freshman, Pendles became Dunbar's youngest Maryland Scholastic Association champ. As a sophomore, he was a runner-up in the MSA and the region and placed fourth in the state.
Pendles went 28-2 with 16 pins and a technical fall last season, winning his second titles in the city and MSA tournaments, along with a regional crown. Among his victories was a 16-0 technical fall over Dulaney's 3A-4A state runner-up, Mike Kassolis.
After earning Outstanding Wrestler honors in last year's MSAs, only a 7-6 loss to Northeast's top-ranked, two-time state champion Marty Kusick kept Pendles from winning a 112-pound state title.
Ranked No. 2 at 130 this year, Pendles had three pins and a decision to win the Lackey Tournament. At Lackey, he had hoped to meet Southern's top-ranked defending state champion Tyrone Neal, but Neal easily won at 135.
"I hoped to get Neal, but that didn't happen," said Pendles. "No one came close to beating me."
Thompson, ranked No. 6 in the state at 145 pounds, lost badly at Lackey, being handled, 10-0, by Bullis' top-ranked Benny Ferro, a two-time Annapolis Tournament champ who was fourth in last year's National Preps.
"I lost because I was nervous going against the No. 1 guy, and when I forced things, he capitalized on my mistakes," said Thompson. "But I learned from that, and I'm wrestling better and smarter."
Thompson was fourth in the state as a sophomore and a runner-up last year. He was also a city and regional champ last season as well as an MSA runner-up en route to a 26-3 season.
In his state semifinal, Thompson won a 10-9 battle over North Carroll's Tom Kiler, who a week earlier had dethroned Francis Scott Key's Randy Owings in the regional.
Thompson faced Owings in the state final, feeling boosted emotionally after beating Kiler. But Owings blanked Thompson, 5-0, to win his second straight state crown.
"I have to get back to states," Thompson said. "Being on a state championship football team at Dunbar was great, but being a champ in wrestling would top that. I have one more shot, and this is it."