Rob Johns has an affinity for Tom Clancy novels, such as "The Hunt for Red October," and often delights in tales imparted by an uncle who fought in World War II.
But scarcely one month into the wrestling season, the Calvert Hall junior has some war stories of his own.
Johns already has battled and beaten several of the state's best. He pinned Damascus' No. 2 Joey Garvin, who went 29-4 last season and who placed third in the Class 3A-4A state meet. He also owns 9-6 and 4-1 decisions over Archbishop Curley's Paul Boettcher (21-2 with 16 pins last season), as well as a 16-14 win over Francis Scott Key's Matt Yinger, who shares a sixth-place state ranking with Boettcher.
"I was pretty nervous against Boettcher, because he's quick and tries to get you with his momentum, but I was able to slow him down," said Johns, who won the Annapolis and Curley tournaments while competing at 130 pounds.
"Yinger's stronger than I am, but I was able to hold my own until my conditioning caught up to him. I showed I could wrestle, not muscle. Those three matches were real battles. They've really boosted my confidence."
Not to mention his record: Johns is 16-0 with 11 pins and is ranked No. 4 in his weight class by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.
After a summer of open tournaments, weightlifting and swimming, Johns, who was a wiry 119-pounder last season, is more powerfully constructed.
"Rob's a lot stronger and has natural composure," said third-year coach Henry Franklin. "He can appear to be in the worst position and yet be comfortable enough to pull things out."
An Edgemere resident and a 3.0 student, Johns is one of several talented graduates of the Dundalk Hawks' junior league program, coached by Charlie Tucker and Billy Webber.
Tucker's son, Chris, is Calvert Hall's 103-pounder, and Webber's son, Billy Jr., wrestles at 112 for Sparrows Point. Other Hawks alumni include Sparrows Point's senior state champs, Tommy Free and Mike Young, and McDonogh's National Prep champ, J. R. Plienis, who is now a University of Nebraska freshman with a wrestling scholarship.
Johns won two state titles in six junior league seasons. As a Calvert Hall freshman, he benefited from the presence of two-time Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association champ Gino Amasia, a two-time All-Metro who wrestled at 112 and 119.
"It was more an individual thing then, trying to do the best I could for myself," said Johns, who was second in the private school states as a freshman -- going 42-6 -- and third last year. "Last year, I began to understand our potential and worked more for team goals."
Under Franklin and assistant Todd Crandell, Calvert Hall has improved steadily, winning a school-record 14 dual meets last season. Two weeks ago, the No. 8-ranked Cardinals nearly pulled off a dual-meet upset of defending Class 3A-4A state champion Damascus.
"It's been exciting. We know where we stand and what our individual roles are," said Johns. "We've set high goals as a team, and everyone's prepared to go for the pin, to go hard for a full six minutes."
A year ago, however, Johns' enthusiasm was tempered in the preseason by a broken hand. His return to action after Christmas vacation was a dismal effort at the Damascus Invitational. But he salvaged the season by winning the MIAA crown he had just missed the year before, and finished with an overall 27-6 record.
Unfulfilled by the overall season, however, Johns channeled his energy toward being more effective this season.
As a result, he's winning with machine-like efficiency.
"Rob's matured and realizes the opportunities he missed last year," said Franklin. "On his feet, he's at least as good as anyone he faces."
Pub Date: 12/22/96