People who follow wrestling have known Chris Caton's name for a long time. The senior at Northside Christian has been something of a wrestling legend since seventh grade, and he is looking to put the finishing touches on one of the state's finest high school wrestling careers.
Caton first appeared on the wrestling radar in 2007, when, as a seventh-grader, he pinned a wrestler who was not only a state champion but also a junior, four years older.
After that win, message boards lit up with people saying Caton would be a top-10 all-time wrestler in N.C. history. They were right, but Caton may end up even more highly regarded than that.
An All-American last year, Caton is a three-time state champion. He is looking to become only the second wrestler from the state to win four individual state titles, according to WrestlingUSA.com.
"It would be awesome to accomplish that, and it would justify all of the hard work I have put in," Caton said. "It would be cool to look back one day and say that I did it."
RetroRankings.com rated Caton second in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association and named him its pound-for-pound wrestler of the year. The website also listed Caton as the second-hardest to take down in the state and as the second-best takedown artist.
When Caton was coming up as a freshman looking to join a wrestling team, he thought about leaving Northside. The Knights did not have a wrestling program at the time, and Caton and his father approached the school board and athletic director about possibly starting one.
The school agreed to start a team and named Caton's father, Jerry, head coach, a position he still holds today.
"We had talked going into the year about maybe having me go to a public school that had a program already established," Caton said. "It was great that my dad was able to coach me, but I wanted to stay at Northside. I had been here a while and like it here, so it worked out well."
Caton has been attending Northside since kindergarten and will leave the school as one of its most accomplished athletes in any sport.
"The great thing about Chris is that, aside from him physically looking like a wrestler, you would never know he was an accomplished athlete," Northside athletic director John Brooks said. "He is so humble and would never let out that he was a state champion or All-American."
Caton wrestles year-round in tournaments and has made a name for himself around the country. Although he comes from a small school and small wrestling program, he has drawn attention of many college coaches.
The Air Force and Naval academies, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia and Old Dominion are among schools that have shown interest in Caton.
He said he will make his decision later this year and describes himself as an average but improving student. There is nothing average about him when he steps on the mat, though.
He has stayed around the same weight since his freshman year and will compete this year in the 127- or 132-pound class.
The Knights have grown as a wrestling program since Caton helped start the team nearly four years ago. He said they should be competitive this year and have had a few wrestlers finish in the top five in the state tournament the last few years.
"We definitely have had some talent here, but we are not the biggest school and don't always have the numbers of some of the other programs," Caton said. "When we started we had guys who had never wrestled and had little or no experience, but we have always held our own."
While the team should be fine, Caton will be the main focus as he goes for his fourth straight state title. He said his biggest strengths on the mat are his ability to stay on his feet, his athleticism and his quickness.
Cation is nationally ranked and soon will try to become a four-time champion. But he is focused on getting his team better and the program on the right track.
"I want to work as hard as I can each day, and it starts now, in the early part of the (school) year," Caton said. "I try to lead by example and do things the right way."
The win he got as a seventh-grader was the starting point, but Caton will have the chance to do what few wrestlers before him have accomplished.
"I want to win states this year, and being named an All-American again would be a huge honor, and I would love to win Nationals," Caton said. "It kind of hit me in middle school that I had some talent, but I never though I could achieve what I have so far."