At 5-feet-5-inches tall and weighing 120 pounds, Collin Stewart isn’t going to intimidate opponents with his size.
The quiet, unassuming South Mecklenburg senior wrestler is the last one to boast about his achievements, but his actions on the mat speak loud.
Over the past three seasons, Stewart has become one of the best wrestlers in the SoMeck 8 conference, Mecklenburg County and the state. He has gone 121-11 in that time.
This season, Stewart has been at his best, going 34-0 (through Jan. 15) and winning seven tournament titles, including the Holy Angels Invitational, the Mecklenburg County Championship, the Nation Ford Invite, the Pirate Invitational (at Porter Ridge), the Sabre Clash (at South Meck) and the Weddington Duals.
At the Nation Ford Invitational on Jan. 9, Stewart tallied his 139th career victory to set a new South Mecklenburg school record for wins in a career.
Stewart, who has maintained the top spot in North Carolina in the 4A 120-pound weight class all season, according to RetroRankings.com, signed with Campbell and coach Cary Kolat, a former NCAA national champion and Olympian, in November.
“I’ve never been flashy, I just try to go out and get the job done in every match,” said Stewart, who credits a lot of his focus and core strength to his background in gymnastics, which he did from age 8 until eighth grade. “You have to focus on each match individually. It’s just you against the other guy, and any given day someone can beat you. I feel like I’ve worked too hard to not go out and give my best effort.”
South Mecklenburg wrestling coach Jeffrey Keiser says Stewart’s biggest strength is his steady approach.
“Collin can win a tournament and when you see him right afterwards you wouldn’t know if he won the tournament or lost,” said Keiser, who is in his second year as South Meck’s coach after spending the previous 12 seasons at Charlotte Country Day. “He could have pinned a guy in five seconds or gotten pinned in five seconds and he has same demeanor. He just keeps quietly going about his business. He lets his results speak for themselves.”
Stewart didn’t start wrestling until he was a freshman at South Mecklenburg, when he finished with a record just under .500.
Stewart vastly improved as a sophomore, going 44-6, winning the Southwestern 4A conference title at 113 pounds and qualifying for states.
Last season, as a junior, Stewart was 43-5 overall, winning the SoMeck 8 title at 113, finishing as 4A West Regional runner-up and third at the 4A state meet.
This season, Stewart not only boasts a perfect record but has several impressive victories, including three wins against Hough senior Austin Powell, who has established himself as one of the top wrestlers in the state over the past few seasons.
Stewart also competes on a national level, wrestling for the Darkhorse team year round under coaches Jim Avola and Casey Boyle. He had success in several big tournaments this summer and fall, including the Disney Duals in Florida and the Journeyman Classic in New York.
That success has Stewart working toward bigger goals in his final season. He’s written those goals in a journal, and they include things like winning a state title and becoming a college wrestler.
“I’ve come a long way since my freshman year and worked very hard to get to where I am now,” Stewart said. “I feel if I wrestle the way I am capable of, stick to my game plan, that I am going to have a chance to win in every match.
“But you have to go out and prove it every time. The further you go, the harder it gets.”
Keiser says he can see Stewart’s focus in every workout.
“I feel like every practice, every match for Collin is a means to an end,” Keiser said. “Every time he wrestles, he is a step closer in his mind to getting to that Saturday night in that final match in Greensboro (at the state finals).”
Stewart also is focused on helping his South Mecklenburg team to a historic season. The Sabres (11-3) hope to wrestle their way to only their second conference title since 1987.
Ardrey Kell, Charlotte Catholic and Providence High will be the Sabres’ biggest obstacles.
South Meck won the 2013 Southwestern 4A conference title when Stewart was a sophomore. This year, the team has one of its most balanced and talented lineups, with Stewart and senior co-captains Mason Armstrong (182 pounds), Blake Barber (152) and Jacob Norby (170) leading the way.
Keiser says juniors Eddie Allen (138) and Chris Moungle (145) also will help the Sabres’ chances.
“We all want to be a part of building this tradition at South Meck,” Stewart said. “It would mean a lot to win the conference and help this team put some banners up.”
While Stewart’s legacy at South Mecklenburg is not yet complete, his future in the sport is bright.
“Collin is still pretty new to wrestling, relatively speaking, and so he’s going to learn so much from coach Kolat at Campbell,” Keiser said. “He’s going to get a great education both academically and in wrestling. There’s no telling how high the ceiling for how good Collin can be is.
“I can’t wait to see how much he has improved in two or three years.”