ALLIANCE - Wrestling was a tough sport for Austintown Fitch's Tyler Bell to pick up as a freshman.
He was admittedly overweight and out of shape, and the coaches were forcing him to run around the track, something he despised.
"A whole lap around the track was a quarter mile, if I remember correctly, and I couldn't even run 100 meters before I was like, uh," said Bell, who then made a loud gasping sound as if he was on the threshold of passing out. "I thought I was going to die, but I just fell on the ground."
And yet, somehow, some way, he stuck with it - finding a type of motivation a lot of men have when they decide to start working out: losing weight. His just had an added, and honest, twist to it.
"When I first started, I weighed 315, so dropping 30 pounds was pretty hard for me," the 285-pound Bell said. "I never dropped weight, and I never wrestled before. I never did anything like that, and so it was really hard at first to drop all that weight and keep up with the conditioning. But I liked it. I got the babes. They were all like, 'Oh hey, looking good Tyler.' "
While he laughed when he said it, there was a strong hint of honesty to his statement.
Regardless of his past incentive, Bell found other motives over the next few years. Bell is now a fit 275 pounds, a senior captain and owns a 25-4 record, the best on the Falcons. He won his first two matches at the Top Gun Tournament at Alliance High School on Friday to advance to the quarterfinals. He'll face Austin Carry (20-0) of Loudonville today with a shot to advance to the semifinals of one of the toughest individual tournaments in the state.
A few years ago, such an accomplishment seemed nearly impossible. Fitch coach Brett Powell talked about the difficulty for a new wrestler to pick up the sport in four years. While that may seem like a long time, Powell said the little idiosyncrasies of the sport can be very challenging to grasp, even for athletes who have been wrestling since childhood. Yet, Bell demonstrated a strong work ethic that helped him pick up the sport quicker than most, Powell said.
"He started in ninth grade, and he was overweight and not very athletic," he said. "He was just a kid who had a motor. He wanted to work hard, and he wanted to be a part of something - you could just tell. And now he's probably one of the biggest overachievers we've had."
Bell hasn't been much of a household name throughout the wrestling circuits because he had to sit behind former Fitch standout Lennie McGeachy, who graduated last year. Bell's first real chance came late last season when McGeachy became sick the day of the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League tournament, which features nearly 20 teams from around northeast Ohio. Bell shocked the field by placing second, losing only to Connor Sharp of West Branch, who finished third in the state in Division II last year.
The tournament helped Bell see his potential.
"That made me feel like I could compete with the better wrestlers, and it's not just a stab in the dark - maybe I can win, maybe I can't," he said. "It gave me great confidence, and that's why I did so well at the end of last year."
His success has carried over into this season.
AREA TEAMS AT TOP GUN: Poland is in 11th place at the Top Gun Tournament, which features 44 teams from all over Ohio. Junior Mike Audi led the Bulldogs, who accumulated 57.5 points on Day 1 of the two-day tournament, by going 2-0. The 170-pound Audi is the quarterfinals, which start at approximately 10 a.m. today. Boardman is 20th and has three wrestlers in the quarterfinals: Nick Mancini, 120, Mario Graziani, 132 and Joe Cordova, 182. Fitch is 31st, with Bell and Zach Mackall, 145, in the quarterfinals. Southeast is 34th, and Brandon James is the Pirates' lone quarterfinalist. Liberty is 43rd, and Tyrell Jethrow, 152, is in the quarterfinals. Claymont leads the team standings with 96.5 points. Cuyahoga Valley-Christian Academy is second with 85.5 points, and Perry is third with 80 points.