REAPING THE REWARDS
Only a sophomore, Ryan Smith is a heavy favorite to take home a state title this weekend in Salem
Ryan Smith is polite and courteous as he fields each question.
He seems to appreciate the attention, and does his best to fully answer each inquiry.
Still, one can't shake the feeling that he wishes he was somewhere else.
The notion is mostly exhibited through his eyes. Each time a brief lull starts to dip into the conversation, they begin to take themselves to the corner of the gym.
The sight he appears so fixated on is, on the surface, nothing special. While two coaches talk with one another on the side, seven young men run around a mat.
To Smith, however, it is everything.
As the reporter fumbles through his notes, debating which question to ask next, it is almost as if you can see him mentally counting off the seconds of valuable practice time he is losing.
Smith's teammates may be doing nothing more than a light warmup drill, but, if anything is certain, the 125-pound sophomore wrestler didn't get to where he is by just standing around.
"If you don't put work into it you don't really get better," he says. "You have to really work at it to see any improvement."
Smith is among eight Crook County High School wrestlers who have qualified for the 4A state tournament this weekend in Salem. While only an underclassmen, he represents the Cowboys' best shot at taking home a state title.
"His chances are extremely good," said coach Mike Shinkle. "There are no guarantees, but he is heavily favored to win."
The CCHS grappler enters the tournament with the state's No. 1 ranking at 125 pounds and the No. 2 seed in the event. He failed to garner the top seed only because OSAA gives precedent to returning placers in the same weight class and Alec Zachman, a West Linn senior, placed third at 125 pounds last year. Smith, as only a freshman, took third at 112 pounds.
Smith has faced Zachman twice this year and pinned him on both occasions. His most recent victory came in the finals of the heavily stacked Reser's Tournament of Champions in Hillsboro last month.
His last experience with the No. 3 seed, Drew Guthmiller of Pendleton, was even more recent, and just as telling.
Smith handed Guthmiller a decisive 8-1 defeat last weekend in the first place match of the IMC district tournament.
"I don't see anyone who can compete with him right now," said Shinkle. "And that's because of how much he puts into the sport."
Smith calculates that, on average, he spends five hours a day wrestling. That includes an hour of sprints and practice in the morning before school starts, high school wrestling practice after classes and then a weight lifting session at night when everything else is done.
On weekends, when he is not competing, he and his dad will go to Portland and log mat time there.
Smith finds inspiration in his father, who was a Crook County state champion himself and now fully supports his son's pastime.
"He's been my coach all along," Smith said. "My dad can push me harder just because he's my dad and he's had more time with me."
Wrestling is a year long affair for Smith, who spends the off season competing with the Portland based USA Cobra club and is also a member of the Oregon National team.
He still, however, finds time to do (normal) teenager stuff. He is an avid snowboarder and wakeboarder and enjoys hanging out with friends. Poised to become a three-time high school state champ, Smith is not even sure if he wants to continue the sport in college.
"It depends what I want to do when I grow up," said Smith, who is only 16. "My dad wrestled for a division one school and they didn't concentrate on his grades at all so he [transferred] to Pacific [a division III university in Forest Grove, Ore.]."
Smith has so far been able to effectively balance his school work with athletics and maintains a respectable 3.0 GPA.
As he competes in his second state tournament in as many years, he has his sights fixated on the top prize.
"I want to go to the state tournament and win state," he says rather bluntly.
It is a goal that, if the past is any barometer of the present, he stands a pretty good chance of obtaining.
"I tell everyone that, like life, you get out of wrestling what you put into it," said Shinkle. "Ryan puts everything he has into the sport, and it shows."