ROOTSTOWN - Everyone would have understood if Kevin Stock decided not to wrestle his senior season.
The Garrettsville Garfield 182-pounder was the runner-up in the 2012 Division III state tournament and placed fourth as a sophomore at 171 pounds. But there were more important matters on Stock's mind when the beginning of the season rolled around. He lost his younger brother, Nicholas, in a tragic car accident in October of 2012, and Kevin wasn't ready to turn his focus to wrestling.
"I just had too much on my mind at the time and couldn't wrestle," he said.
His feelings stayed that way until a few weeks ago when he decided he "had to come out and finish" his wrestling career. The problem was that teams had to turn their Alpha Weight Master Roster - a document that shows the minimum weight a wrestler can participate - to the Ohio High School Athletic Association by Jan. 14, which was about a week before Stock came to his decision. So Stock and Garfield coach Alan Harbert appealed to the OHSAA and asked if an exception could be made because of the personal hardship Stock went through. The OHSAA allowed Stock to return, and his first match came on Friday at the Division III sectional tournament at Rootstown. He pinned Liberty's Logan Weinreber in 1 minute 14 seconds and advanced to the semifinals.
He hopes it's a sign of things to come.
"Twelve matches to the end - 12-0 hopefully," said Stock of his aspirations, referring to the amount of wins he needs to win a state championship.
In order to get to that point, Harbert said Stock must get into better shape after missing the entire regular season. The short-and-stocky senior possesses the wrestling skills to win the title, Harbert said, but the amount of conditioning it takes to win close matches in the third period is beyond his current level.
"We just gotta keep drilling and getting it so his moves are crisp and come to him naturally," Harbert said. "He's been wrestling a long time, so that part of it should come pretty quick. Getting him into shape is going to be the key to the whole situation."
Stock made matters even more difficult on Friday. He forgot a major aspect of the sport - and life.
"I forgot to breathe for the first 30 seconds," Stock said with a laugh. "I got a little excited, so I had to catch my breath."
Now that he's got that down, he said he's focused on fine-tuning his moves. Harbert said Stock's patented double-leg takedown is as quick and powerful as ever, and Stock agreed. Yet, he said he'll be using much more than a double leg in the coming weeks.
"I'm going to open up and bring out the whole arsenal," he said. " I'm not going to be tight and locked up. I'm just going to be free, so hopefully it's going to be a good season."
It's a season Harbert believes Stock will enjoy regardless of how it ends.
"I'm glad he came back," said Harbert, who's already dealing with the loss of Aaron Yonker, a junior who also was a state runner-up last year but is out for the season with a shoulder injury. "I think it will help him and he won't have any regrets down the road, saying, 'What if?' "
BLUE JAYS, LEOPARDS HAVE SOLID FIRST DAY: Jackson-Milton is tied for second place with Akron Manchester in team standings with 44 points. Rootstown is in first with 75 points. Liberty is currently in fourth at 42.5, while Girard is seventh with 35 points. Garfield is 10th with 24.5 points, and Brookfield is 11th with 21.
Advancing to the semifinals for Jackson-Milton was Mitch Tikkanen (106), Terry Stockton (113), Devin Seka (120), Joe Burnside (132), Tyler Staton (138) and Corley Lamb (285). For the Leopards, Juwan Millhouse (113), Brandon Jefferson (145), Tyrell Jethrow (152), Cody BuCher (220) and Danaryll Green (285) move on. Girard's Zane Chase (120), Garrett Bass?(138), Nick Cardiero (152), James Cupan (160) and Ryan Leasure (170) made the semifinals. Zach Jamieson (160), Zach Hackett (195) and David?Jamieson (220) of Brookfield all advanced. Garfield's Andy Anderson (195) joined Stock in the semifinals for the G-Men.
The tournament resumes today at 10:30 a.m. The top four placers move on to next weekend's district tournament at Garfield Heights.