"Wow, this kid's a beast."
It was the first thought assistant wrestling coach and former NFL safety Eugene Robinson had when he saw Charlie Rand wrestle as an eighth-grader at Charlotte Christian.
"I see a state champ in the making, and I see that for three of four years," said Robinson.
Second-year wrestling coach Vince Sardo, who coached for nine years at Holy Trinity Catholic Middle, is working on building a strong program at Christian, looking for young wrestlers to lead the team.
Rand, a 14-year-old freshman with a record of 11-4 and ranked as the No. 1 113-pound private school wrestler by RetroRankings.com, is the kind of wrestler you can build a team around.
"When you find one good wrestler on the team like that, it permeates throughout, both in work ethic, their ability, their discipline, their strength, their conditioning, everything they do, they do it at the next level of intensity," said Sardo.
In seventh grade, the first year students at Charlotte Christian can play sports, Rand wanted to join a team. Only about 80 pounds at the time, he knew he wasn't suited for football or basketball. He tried wrestling.
That first year he says he was beaten a lot, but he was better during the second half of the season and started winning more. After the season, he decided to devote more time to the sport and joined a wrestling club.
"That summer, going into eighth grade, that's when I decided if I want to really improve in this I guess I need to start working," he said. "The kids that are top in the country, they've been wrestling year-round since they were in their diapers."
Over the summer, Rand said he learned more about wrestling, the right moves to use and how to prepare mentally for matches. His conditioning improved. In eighth grade, he only lost one match.
Sardo and Robinson thought Rand would struggle his first year at the high school level having to face older and more experienced opponents. Sardo said Rand didn't show the normal drop off wrestlers face when they leave middle school.
"His opponent is shaving and driving his car home and Charlie's out there with him," said Sardo. "The first couple (matches) I wasn't quite sure what I was going to see. It was exciting to watch, it's still exciting to watch. It will be for many, many years."
Rand (5-foot-6) recently finished third in his weight class in a 19-team tournament at Charlotte Catholic. He may have four losses, but they've come to juniors and seniors, wrestlers who have more mat experience then Rand.
The coaches say Rand's success comes from his ability to transition fluidly between moves, his conditioning and his tenacity and work ethic. Rand says he wants to be aggressive when he wrestles, pushing the pace. He prefers wrestling while standing and Robinson said his ability to use his hips is key in controlling his opponent.
Sardo thinks he will continue to improve because he's coachable and willing to take advice.
"He's the kind of guy that's going to be a pleasure to coach," said Sardo. He "listens to you all the time, does everything you ask and more. It's just incredible."
Rand said he was surprised by the No. 1 ranking. His coaches were as well, but now they are considering entering him in a national independent school tournament at the end of the season.
"I've been here since 2000 and I've seen many wrestlers come and go and you very rarely see someone in the gym and go, 'That guy could be a national champion,'" said Robinson. "I'm saying it about this guy."
Of the 13 wrestlers on Christian's team, one is a senior, one is a junior and five are new to the sport this year. Sardo says having a wrestler like Rand is helping the rest of the team get better, like 125-pound sophomore Mark Saleh, who is 11-4 this year after finishing around .500 last year.
Sardo hopes other wrestlers will look up to Rand and feed off his work ethic next year.
"They're looking up to him already," he said. "My older wrestlers are looking up to him."