After a learning year on the bench as a freshman, Concord's Nathanael Torrence tasted just enough success during his sophomore campaign that he knew if he was to improve, wrestling was a sport in which you had to be all in.
In the offseason, he sought out the toughest, most reputable camp he could find and what he found was a grueling 28-day intensive experience with coach J. Robinson at the University of Minnesota.
Torrence says, "It changed my life."
Developing a work ethic and a level of self-discipline that reached new heights, Torrence finished third at last year's 3A state championship tournament in the 140-pound weight class. Starting this season with just two losses in his first 37 matches, Torrence and Concord coach Michael Carty think the senior wrestler could earn a state title.
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That's pretty good for someone who says he never even saw a wrestling match prior to his eighth grade season.
"I started wrestling when I heard an announcement for tryouts the next day," said Torrence. "I literally knew nothing about it. I told my dad I wanted to try out and he said don't be upset if you don't make the team."
Torrence says he lost his first 5 or 6 matches, then finished the season with a five-match winning streak and a third place finish at the conference tournament.
When he reached high school, wrestling was still secondary to his favorite sport, football. Concord's wrestling team was senior-oriented that first year and Torrence competed in just a handful of matches.
Hearing from a Jiu Jitsu coach that he had the potential for greatness gave Torrence a newly found confidence. He gave up football and stepped up his conditioning and approach as he entered his sophomore year.
Two weeks into the season, Carty named Torrence a team captain, quite a stretch for someone who had just a few high school matches under his belt.
Torrence responded with victories in his first seven matches. On his way to a record of 33 wins and 11 losses, Torrence was one win shy of being a regional champion.
Still, he qualified for the state tournament, where he lost two of his three matches. Then came the summer in which he found himself at the camp in Minnesota. Twenty-eight days. All wrestling, all the time.
"The workouts were uncomprehendable to the human body," said Torrence. "They were just insane. College wrestlers said they were tougher than their workouts. It changed my life all way around in terms of hard work and leadership."
As a junior, Torrence won early-season tournaments at Porter Ridge and Salisbury High Schools and eventually won the South Piedmont Conference crown. His post-season was a reverse image of the previous year.
He barely qualified for the state tournament, grabbing the fourth and final spot out of the regional tournament. In the first round at states, Torrence defeated a top seed, setting the tone for a third-place medal. He finished the season 45-5.
Torrence continues to accelerate his workout routine. His typical day starts with a 3-5 mile run before school. In his final class of the school day, Torrence is a student in Carty's weightlifting class.
A three-hour team practice follows school and after a dinner at home Torrence sometimes runs a few more miles or plays basketball at a local fitness club. It's that kind of routine that has pushed him to a 35-2 record through Jan. 10.
In addition to Torrence's workman's conditioning, Carty says his senior is a complete wrestler on the mat. While he has wrestled between several weight classes this year, retrorankings.com has Torrence listed as the third best 3A wrestler at 135 pounds.
"He doesn't give away points," says Carty. "I haven't seen anyone take him down when he's on the bottom. There's some college coaches interested already. He's the complete physical package. He's determined, he's relentless and has technical skills in all phases of the sport."