Mooresville wrestler Tyler Bruton starts the season as one of the best wrestlers in North Carolina in his 160-pound weight class.
The senior is ranked second in the state, but he admits he doesn't pay too much attention to rankings.
"Honestly, it doesn't mean a lot. It's kind of a confidence booster, but that's on paper," he said. "That doesn't matter until you actually get on the mat and prove it."
Bruton, who had a 5-1 record going into this week, is a tough opponent to beat on the mat.
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"I feel like I give more heart than I have skill," he said. "I just try to pull it through any way I can. I find ways to win."
Mooresville coach Ben Watson agrees, although he's quick to point out that Bruton's technique has improved over the last four season. Watson added that his free-spirited wrestler is especially skilled at reversing his opponents.
"It's just fun to watch him wrestle," said Watson.
Bruton was among the best in the area last season, winning his 100th match and finishing fourth in the state 4A tournament.
"I'd always wanted to walk in a Parade of Champions and I finally got to do that last year," he said. "That had been a goal of mine since I was 5 years old, so that was a big accomplishment. I'm ready to carry that on to this year."
Bruton highlights a talented and experienced core of returning Blue Devils. Three other state qualifiers - senior Hunter Hefner as well as juniors Matt Krider and Zac Brown - should also make big contributions to the team.
Bruton isn't the only Blue Devil ranked this season. Sophomore Samuel Crisp (eighth at 103 pounds), Krider (seventh at 112), Hefner (fourth at 135) and Brown (fifth as a heavyweight) are also ranked.
Coach Ben Watson said this group of guys, especially his seniors, have stepped up and mean a lot to both the program and to him.
"This is the first group I've seen through from freshmen to seniors," he said. "They have done such a good job of being better leaders and role models for the team. It's really exciting to see them wrestle."
With the returning talent Watson admits he has high goals for the team.
"We want to be excellent in every aspect of what we do," he said. "The key is that we come together as a family."
The Blue Devils had a good year last season, qualifying with six wrestlers to the state tournament. Santonio Thompson led the group, winning the 135-pound state championship, while Dalton Pierce, who wrestled at 145-pounds, was fourth.
Although Bruton is proud of last year's finish, he was left wanting more.
"We didn't pull off the conference tournament against Lake Norman," he said, explaining that this serves as motivation for this year. "We have a lot of work to do."
Getting the upper-hand against the Wildcats is always a goal for Mooresville.
"That's always a big plus," he said.
Bruton will have stiff competition when they face Lake Norman later in the season, as the No. 1 ranked wrestler in his weight class is a Wildcat, senior Josh Smith.
"Me and Josh have wrestled for quite a few years in a row now and it's just fun," said Bruton. "I enjoy the competition."
Both Bruton and Watson know how much work the Blue Devils have left to do to compete with their favored rivals for an I-Meck title.
"Lake Norman is a very good team," said Watson, adding that their senior talent is impressive. "They're in contention for a state title and have a team that could do it. However, we don't wrestle on paper, we wrestle on the mat. We're going to give it all we've got."
Bruton was quick to point out that hard work in the wrestling room during practice is not enough to be great.
"You have to run on your own, work out in the weight room," he said. "You have to do anything you can do extra to get better."
The low-key 6-footer stays in shape by playing football in the fall and running track in the spring.
Bruton, who had 112 career wins last week, has a chance to break the school individual win record of 159 this year.
"It's going to be tough," he said. "I'm going to keep my mind on it all year long."
Regardless of whether he reaches that goal, he has his eye set on something more.
"I want to win the state tournament this year," he said. "I just want to have a great season."