It was a friendship that started with a headlock, not a handshake.
When Harford Tech senior Brad Dreyer first met future teammate Mike Taylor at a wrestling practice six years ago, the two became instant adversaries.
"I'll never forget, it was my first day of rec wrestling and he'd been wrestling for like five years," said Dreyer, The Sun's fourth-ranked 140-pounder. "I didn't know what I was doing, but I gave him a hard time when we were wrestling. I think he was a little angry, and he threw me in a headlock when I wasn't looking. I got real ticked off. We really didn't like each other that much in the beginning."
The tension eventually subsided and two years later, Dreyer and Taylor were good friends. At Harford Tech, the two have teamed up to form the most productive wrestling duo in the program's history.
In four years, Dreyer and Taylor have combined for five Harford County titles, one regional crown and 216 wins, contributing to Harford Tech's rise to one of the top public school programs in the state.
The Cobras are favorites to win their fourth straight county championship when the tournament begins Friday at C. Milton Wright, but the veteran squad has its sights on an even bigger goal: a Class 2A-1A state title.
"They have crystallized this team and made it lucrative for other kids to come here," said Cobras coach Gary Siler, whose No. 3 team is 13-1 after falling to No. 2 Owings Mills on Tuesday in the 2A-1A North regional dual finals. "I don't think Mike Long [a two-time junior league champ; now a sophomore] would have come here if it wasn't for them two. They are the core of what we've built today."
Ironically, both Dreyer and Taylor initially wanted to go someplace else.
Dreyer, also a football and baseball player, was eyeing C. Milton Wright because it had a good football team. But Dreyer, whose mother is a secretary at Harford Tech, opted to go there after attending the county championships and meeting some of the Cobras' wrestlers.
Taylor's initial desire was to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncles and wrestle at Bel Air. His uncles, Gordon and George Taylor, both won state titles, but Mike Taylor was swayed away from Bel Air.
"It came down to one phone call," said Taylor, ranked second by The Sun at 130 pounds with a 21-2 record. "I had never considered Tech, hadn't even heard of it. But one day Brad called me up and said, 'Let's go down to the gym at Harford Tech to weight lift.' I saw a lot of the school, met Coach Siler, and I really liked it. It's been the best choice I ever made."
Taylor and Dreyer each finished with around 30 wins their freshman seasons, and Siler correctly predicted there would be bigger things to come.
Dreyer has 112 victories, and is the winningest four-year wrestler in program history. Former Cobra Tommy Conlon won 122 matches in his high school career, but he transferred to Harford Tech for his sophomore season.
Taylor has 104 wins - his 100th was a decision over McDonogh's Robbie Willey two weeks ago that gave the Cobras arguably their biggest victory ever - and could become the first Cobra to win four county titles later this week.
However, Taylor, 18, is still searching for his first state crown after falling, 3-1, last year to Owings Mills' Rob Cooper in the 119-pound finals.
For Dreyer, who had a breakout season by winning a county and regional crown last winter, a 2-1 loss to Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Sonny Nucci in the 135-pound state final bout, supplies motivation every day.
"There's not a day that goes by where losing states by one point doesn't haunt me," said Dreyer, 17, who is 22-2 and has a four-year record of 112-23. "Every time I get tired in practice, I think one point, one point. It gives me an extra inch. To this day, I've never watched a video of the finals."
Aside from their razor sharp competitive edge, Taylor and Dreyer, both captains, are as polar opposites as you may find.
Dreyer is a jokester, who lightens practices by calling his teammates by the names of his future opponents. He has also been known to playfully tease some Cobras, chowing down on McDonald's hamburgers in front of teammates who are worried about maintaining their weight.
Meanwhile, Taylor is all business, and that mind-set carries over to the mat where the senior brings a tireless work ethic.
A member of the Maryland Junior National Wrestling Team, Taylor said he tried five other sports when he was younger but wasn't good in any of them. As a wrestler, he is a technician, who preys on small openings and opponent's miscues.
In contrast, Dreyer is quick and precise, relying on his muscle and aggression. His father was a two-time state weightlifting champ, and while Dreyer is just 5 feet 7, 140 pounds, he bench-presses 245 pounds.
"The crazy thing about Brad is he'll learn everything I learned all summer by wrestling me for one week," said Taylor, who will continue with the sport next year at West Virginia. "He's a natural athlete. Brad started in the third grade and all he knew was the football tackle and the cradle, but they always worked."
Though several years have passed since Taylor and Dreyer's rivalry bloomed in the Bel Air rec program, the two can still get after one another. Josh Taylor, the Cobras' 152-pounder who is not related to Mike, joked that fights come close to breaking out nearly every practice.
"They are always pushing each other, and that rubs off on everyone," said Josh Taylor.
Admitted Dreyer: "I would not be the wrestler I am if Mike didn't come to Harford Tech."
Taylor, who doesn't remember the headlock incident like Dreyer does, has his own take as to how their rivalry started.
"When I was younger, my dad had me convinced that Brad was training every single night in his basement and I started to do the same," said Taylor. "Everything that we do is a contest, whether it's the first person to reach the door or the kid that can do the most reps [in the gym]. The whole drive behind getting better started out with me just wanting to do better than him."