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Nose to grindstone

The Baltimore Sun

While many people are asleep at 5:30 a.m., McDonogh wrestler Ben Levin is already at work. The 130-pound senior is running and lifting weights because he knows he's part of one of the best Eagles teams in recent years and wants to stay at the top of his game. The two-year captain and four-year varsity wrestler is part of a No. 1 team that has no weaknesses in its lineup. Levin has been wrestling for 12 years and plans to attend the Naval Academy after graduation, where he'll continue to wrestle. He's considering majoring in political science or English and is interested in a military career.

What made you start wrestling?

I wanted to be a boxer, but my dad wouldn't let me box. He found a rec [wrestling] program and threw me into that. I've always been fascinated with Leon Spinks and Muhammad Ali.

What has made you so successful in the sport?

I'd have to say my work ethic. Relatively speaking, from a lot of kids on the team, I haven't been wrestling as long because the rec league wasn't anything special; it was just for kids who wanted to get out and do something. It wasn't a lot of competition and I didn't learn the best technique, so I've been wrestling for a very short amount of time in comparison to a lot of other kids. I really love the sport and I just want to get better at it, so I work hard to be the best.

What does it mean being on the No. 1 McDonogh team?

I'm pretty sure McDonogh may never see a team like this again. I'm not sure what's going to happen next year, but I definitely know that I'll cherish this team for a long time, especially because a lot of the guys on my team I've known for such a long time. It's just really special to have a team like this.

What have you guys been doing to reach your goals?

We've been working hard every day in practice, but really a lot of it is not what you can do with your team. Your coach and your teammates can only do so much; it's what you do outside of practice. You've got to make sure you're on a lifting program; you've got to make sure you're eating healthy and all that good stuff because the coach can lead you and try to get you in a good mental state, but really, it's all up to you.

Do you play any other sports?

I ran varsity cross country for a year and I did varsity water polo for a year, but wrestling is my sport and I actually run pretty often. I'm coming up on my fourth marathon soon and I'll be running that in April. I'll be running the Country Music Marathon, and I'm running it for breast cancer.

How do you like running those?

They're tough, but my first one was when I was 12 and I've just been doing them ever since. This marathon's goal is to raise a lot of money and then to qualify for [the] Boston [Marathon].

How do you like wrestling for coach Pete Welch?

Coach Welch, he's a great guy. He's funny and he'll actually tell you jokes before you step out on the mat just to loosen you up. It could be bad to step out on the mat if you're really tense and thinking about the match too much. That's actually my problem. I step on the mat sometimes way too tense, realizing if I just go out there and wrestle like I know how to, I'll do a lot better than if I stress over it and get really tense. He'll tell me jokes and I can't help but laugh because some are just really funny. He's a great coach.

Explain the tattoo on your left chest?

The tattoo's of Popeye. Popeye has run full circle with me my entire life. When I was a little kid, my dad used to sing me the song. When I started wrestling, people actually thought I looked like Popeye, so my nickname was Popeye up until high school, when I was looking at the Navy. I figured Popeye and the Navy kind of coincide and then I got in the prep school and I said, "Why not get a tattoo of Popeye?"

What's something most people don't know about you that you're willing to tell?

I like to watch Hannah Montana (laughs). I think it's a great show.

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