Starters on South Fayette's football team shining after quick shift to wrestling
Whereas most of his opponents used the third weekend of December to compete in or prepare for an individual wrestling tournament — the first or possibly even second of the season — South Fayette senior Grant Fetchet spent those days at Hershey, where he and the rest of the football team won a PIAA Class AA title.
Fetchet, a 170-pound running back on the field and a 152-pounder on the mat, as well as several other Lions spent the holiday portion of December and the first two weeks of January catching up with the competition.
Now, with the first day of the Allegheny County Wrestling Championships at Fox Chapel High School complete, it's fair to wonder how many opponents can keep up with Fetchet.
Fetchet, who placed fifth at the tournament a season ago and later qualified for the PIAA Class AA championships, is one of six South Fayette wrestlers in Saturday's semifinals, which begin at 11 a.m. Three of those semifinalists — junior 160-pounder J.J. Walker, senior 220-pounder Bryce Christoff and Fetchet — started in football and now stand a chance to push the Lions toward a county team title, as South Fayette sits in third place with 101 points, 28 back of leader North Allegheny and two behind Plum.
“I feel like we're still a little bit behind, but just getting on the mat a bunch of times is really good for us because we have our section tournament and then the WPIAL tournament coming up,” said Fetchet, who noted the Lions are 15-0 despite wrestling all of their dual meets in January. “We're definitely on the verge of getting back into the swing of things.”
Fetchet, a No. 6 seed, pinned all three opponents he faced Friday.
Walker, a No. 2 seed, used a pin, an 11-0 major decision and a 15-0 technical fall to reach the semifinals.
Christoff upset top seed Michael Bonsmann of North Hills, 2-1, in the tiebreaker period of overtime to earn a spot in the semifinals.
Less than 24 hours after they left Hershey as football champions, the boys showed up at the wrestling room ready to practice.
“We weren't in wrestling shape yet,” Walker said. “Christmas break helped a lot, because we didn't have to deal with school. A lot of time was on our hands, so we could run and get a lot of workouts in.”
South Fayette's other semifinalists are Andrew John (106 pounds), Mike Carr (132) and Shane Ging (138).
While the challenges faced by the South Fayette wrestlers are fleeting, the adversity Central Catholic sophomore Jayson Dean encounters won't soon fade.
Dean, a 132-pounder, lacks a full right leg. Born without a tibia or femur, he underwent a procedure as a child that rotated his foot 180 degrees and effectively turned it into a knee.
At the tournament and elsewhere, Dean walks with a prosthetic lower right leg. But for matches, he removes the artificial limb and maneuvers around the mat by using his arms and left leg — at times Friday, he used a single-legged hop to evade opponents.
Dean started wrestling as a freshman, and his inexperience makes winning that much more difficult. Yet after an opening-round loss Friday, Dean secured a 4-3 win — his second victory of the season — in a consolation bout and then almost stunned Carrick's Cody Kirk, who gave up a score-tying three-point nearfall in the third period of their match but recovered to win, 7-3.
Conversations with Central Catholic standout 138-pounder Vincenzo Joseph a season ago convinced Dean to stick with wrestling, the sophomore said. Those chats and discussions with other wrestlers often circled back to a particular name — Anthony Robles.
Robles, also born with one leg, went from an unheralded freshman wrestler in high school to the 2011 NCAA 125-pound champion for Arizona State.
“At first I thought I wasn't allowed to (wrestle), but (Joseph) convinced me that I could because of the NCAA champion Anthony Robles,” Dean said. “He won, so (Joseph) convinced me to do it.”
Central Catholic coach Sonny Abe arranged a surprise during a wrestling camp at the high school last February: Robles showed up to speak with those in attendance, including Dean. Robles and Dean then spent about an hour working together in the practice room.
“His advice was to get my upper body stronger, learn different takedowns, and use tilts,” Dean said. “That's the main way I get points — tilts and rolling different ways.”
Even if he never reaches the heights attained by Robles, Dean finds himself aiming higher than he ever imagined — his goal is a berth in the WPIAL tournament. And his teammates have taken notice.
“Jayson, he is one of those kids who, if he puts his mind to it, he can definitely do it, whether it's wrestling, school or whatever,” Joseph said. “He didn't really like wrestling too much at first, but everyone knows the Anthony Robles story. … That inspired him a ton.”