In his bid to repeat as a wrestling state champion, Glenelg senior Drew Sotka found himself trailing by three points late in the third period of his semifinal match.
“There was part of me thinking in my head, I might get third in this tournament…” he said.
“It took a couple seconds, but I told myself that’s not going to happen.”
So Sotka thought back to the practice room where Coach Matt Bichner always preaches to take it one point at a time.
Sotka got that one point with an escape and then scored a takedown for two more points with three seconds left to send his match against North Harford’s Teddy Stinson into overtime, where his conditioning took over for a 7-6 decision.
A 3-2 decision over Liberty’s McCain Butler gave Sotka his second straight state title, this one coming in the Class 2A-1A 182-pound class.
A three-sport star, Sotka also made game-changing plays on the football field. He startedat linebacker and tight end as the Gladiators (7-4) claimed a share of the Howard County crown with a 5-1 league mark. While his final chance to shine as a midfielder on Glenelg’s defending state champion lacrosse team was taken away due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sotka had more than made his mark in his senior year.
For his gifted natural skills, perseverance and example-setting work ethic, Sotka has been selected as The Baltimore Sun’s 2019-20 High School Male Athlete of the Year.
“It’s a great honor to have this award and cool to see all my hard work pay off,” Sotka said. “I’d like to thank all my coaches who taught me about the sports and all my teammates who helped me grow as an athlete and person in general. I think this award belongs to more than just me, also my coaches and teammates and the school community.”
Sotka, who is set to play football at William & Mary, was a team captain in both football and wrestling.
Glenelg first-year football coach Tim Cullen, who previously served as an assistant coach in the program, described Sotka as the team’s ‘do-everything player both on and off the field.’
The Gladiators came into the season as defending county champions, having graduated a prolific senior class, and that left Cullen with some holes to fill.
“I was concerned about leadership. I knew we had kids who could, but they just hadn’t had to do it before,” Cullen said. “Drew embraced the leadership role and understood everything we wanted to do on offense and defense, so we were able to put a lot on him.”
Sotka’s tight end and strong side linebacker positions were two of the most critical in the team’s systems. On offense, the Gladiators rushed for more than 2,500 yards with 95 percent of the plays run to the tight end side. On defense, Sotka played against the run and pass and adjusted calls on the fly.
He finished with 18 catches for 263 yards and six touchdowns and made 68 tackles with five interceptions, while also securing two fumble recoveries and scoring three more touchdowns on defense.
“The biggest thing with Drew is his work ethic, for sure. I’ve never seen anybody work like him,” said his football teammate Zach Devlin. “He’s willing to put more time in than anyone else and it pays off for him. It’s definitely a motivator for everyone. They see the results and know if they put in the work, they can have success with anything they want to do.”
On the mat, Sotka went from being a slightly-above .500 wrestler as a freshman to finishing with a 145-36 career mark in addition to the two state titles. While the first state title in his junior year showed he had arrived among the elite, the challenge of staying in that company proved a much bigger test this year.
“There was more pressure because of the high expectations and you have to fulfill them, so that really motivated me even more in practice,” he said. “Nothing is given to you in wrestling or all sports really, so I knew it would be harder than the previous year and I had to work that much more.”
Sotka’s resilience did not surprise Bichner.
“Drew is a natural athlete and he has a drive to compete and win and a great work ethic which is instilled from his parents,” Bichner said. “So when you have a guy that has the athleticism and add the hard work and mental toughness to go out and compete and do whatever it takes to get it done on the football field and the wrestling mat and lacrosse field, that just leads to good things.”
All his fine work for both teams gave Sotka plenty to consider when asked what his most memorable sports highlight was for his senior year.
There was that comeback win on the mat in the semifinals or standing atop the podium the next day. Cullen rattled off a number of big plays Sotka made to help the football team win games.
But Sotka’s quick response was a testament of his team-first approach. In the football season’s second week, with the Gladiators still trying to find their identity, they rallied to claim a 29-26 win over Delaware-power Smyrna and Sotka noted the clinching touchdown bomb quarterback Mason Davis threw to running back Kyle Dry.
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“It was a team effort all around and it was awesome to be part of that game and a great feeling to win. So that’s probably my favorite highlight from the year, beating Smyrna from Delaware,” Sotka said.