When Chace Curtis took the mat for his state finals match, he admits was a little overwhelmed.
“I was questioning is this real? Am I actually in the finals? It was almost like I couldn’t believe it,” Curtis said.
Staring back across at him was Venice’s Brent Smallwood, but he would prove to be no match for Curtis.
Just like many before him in the Tiger’s young wrestling career.
Curtis, a sophomore, defeated Smallwood by a 6-3 decision to win the class 2A state title in the 120-pound weight class, Columbia’s first state title winner since Amos Smith took the crown in 1975.
That’s why Curtis is the Lake City Reporter’s Columbia High Wrestler of the Year.
“I was expecting to place high but when I finally got to the finals, I was a little awestruck but it actually came true,” Curtis said.
Curtis (50-5) entered this season with a chip on his shoulder after missing districts as a freshman despite a 27-2 start to the season. He missed weight cut right before the meet when he decided to take a 5-Hour Energy drink on a near empty stomach — he says he had only eaten half a Clif Bar — and nearly had to be taken to the hospital.
There wasn’t enough nutrition in Curtis’ system to wrestle as he tried to lose four pounds the night before the district meet.
“I went into shock pretty much,” Curtis said.
It was certainly a life lesson for Curtis, who changed his regimen in the offseason. He began working with professionals in the body building industry to learn the proper ways to cut weight so he could make a run not only at districts, but also the state title.
“I’ll call it a freshman moment … it was one of those boneheaded moves that people make when they’re young and he learned a lesson there,” Columbia head coach Kevin Warner said. “His weight cutting this year was phenomenal. He did everything like he was supposed to. He learned to listen and did it like it was supposed to be done instead of waiting until the last minute and had no issue with it this year.”
Switching weight classes also helped Curtis. He wrestled in the 106-pound class as a freshman but moved up two weight classes to help combat some weight cutting issues.
With a new regimen and a new weight class, Curtis was ready to redeem himself.
“I had a little bit of fire in my butt. I was ready to go in and give it my all. I knew I had to make up for what happened last year,” Curtis said.
Curtis’ dad owns the Future Fitness gym in Lake City where the sophomore spends three to five days a week working out. Warner describes Curtis as a gym rat who strives to get stronger every day.
Just another reason Curtis was a state champion earlier this month.
“He’s just naturally athletic so you pair that with the work ethic that he has when he’s in the wrestling room — he works hard,” Warner said. “He likes to learn new techniques and then he’s got the heart of a champion. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, if you don’t have the heart of a champion, then trying to be special at something is going to be hard to do. I knew when Chace walked out for his finals match at the state tournament there was no way in the world he was going to lose that match because you could see it in his eyes. In his brain he was already a champion, he convinced himself of it, and that’s 90 percent of the battle.”
Curtis isn’t done wrestling this spring. He’ll compete at the National High School Coaches Association’s National Wrestling Championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia on April 1-3 and will also wrestle in another national tournament called the Disney Duals this summer for the second straight year.
Until then, he’ll continue to savor his state title.
“It’s a big responsibility and now I’ve got other people looking up to me,” Curtis said. “We’ve got younger kids coming up wanting to wrestle. It’s a lot more responsibility.”
Responsibility he’s more than happy to have.