BLUEFIELD, Va. — The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
That has to be the way Graham wrestlers in the heaviest two classes must approach each match.
Colin Beavers and Jon Jennings won’t let a little size disadvantage keep them from their appointed rounds.
“It is the match,” Jennings said. “Win or lose you have to go out there and do your best and know that you did your best.”
Beavers, who wrestles in the 285-pound heavyweight division, is nearly 45 pounds shy of that mark, but doesn’t use his 5-foot-9, 240-pound stature as an excuse against opponents bigger than him.
“To some it might be a disadvantage, but I look at it as an advantage,” said Beavers, a senior starting offensive lineman for the Graham football team. “I have a little more speed on them and if they are taller I can get under them a little bit better.
“That works to my advantage and I have learned to use it.”
Ditto for Jennings, a 5-7, 212-pound senior who competes in the 240-pound weight class. He was also a starter for Graham on the defensive line.
“I go out there with them, I lock up and test their strength, I just have to be smarter than them,” Jennings said. “You have got to have good technique.”
Both are back for one more season on the mats for the G-Men, having overcome injuries last year to combine for 38 wins, including 21 by Beavers and 17 from Jennings.
“Jon is an undersized 220, and he wins on technique and a lot of heart, he will never quit,” Graham wrestling coach Tim Woodward said. “Colin is a small heavyweight, there are lot of heavyweights in there that are in the 260s and 270s.
“Colin is a hard worker. He has worked to develop a set of moves that being a small heavyweight he can use to his advantage.”
Beavers enjoys football, but is partial to wrestling, and has been since first starting as a third grader in Tazewell.
“Wrestling all the way,” Beavers said. “It is just something I have been doing the longest and I just enjoy it more. If I get a scholarship I would love to do it in college.”
Football does, however, help Beavers on the mats.
“At the beginning of the year it gives me by base set of conditioning and where we weight-lift all through the spring and summer, it gets my strength back up,” Beavers said.
He actually qualified for the Group A state wrestling as an alternate last year, but was hampered after blowing out his back.
“I got pretty severely hurt at the beginning of the season last year and it kind of affected me later in the season,” said Beavers, who missed all of December and most of January with the injury suffered while weight-lifting prior to school. “It has healed up. It took a little while to get it healed up, but after it did it all came back together.”
While Beavers — who is satisfied with his current weight — is outsized in nearly every match, but strength isn’t the most important part of the sport.
“It is technique and speed and that is what I try to work toward where I am in a bigger weight class,” Beavers said. “I like it pretty good where I am at now.”
Opponents will use any tool necessary to gain an edge, which includes trying to intimidate the smaller Beavers, but he doesn’t let such tactics affect his skills on the mat.
“Not really,” he said. “Some of them have tried, but a lot of them end up being shocked with what I can do for not being as big.”
Jennings is another undersized competitor who didn’t pick up wrestling until arriving at Graham as a freshman. Much like Beavers, football is now Jennings’ second favorite sport.
“I didn’t even know there was a sport like this when I was a little kid or I would have joined it earlier,” Jennings said. “I enjoy wrestling a whole lot more. It is the individual part of it.”
He suffered through an injury-filled season last year, having been transported to a local hospital with a lacerated liver during a football game, and then had wrestling season cut short by knee surgery.
“Everything is fine now,” Jennings said. “I feel fine, (the liver) shouldn’t ever bother me again.”
Not only is speed, strength and technique a vital part of wrestling, so is endurance, which is a critical part of a sport that includes three 2-minute rounds, with the goal ahead to either pin or out-point the opponent.
“There is no break or nothing, you just keep going through it all,” Jennings said. “If you don’t get pinned in the first round you keep going until somebody gets pinned or loses in points.”
Those two minutes can seem much longer.
“It is fun, it is competitive where I am at,” Jennings said. “I like it, it is always good to get a win out there against somebody you don’t even know, but you have always got to show sportsmanship and shake their hand.
“You have to keep going. It is an endurance sport, you just have to keep going to the end. There is one winner and one loser.”
While football is a team sport, wrestling is more individual similar to golf, with the results added up to determine team success.
“It is an individual sport, if you lose it is all on you,” Jennings said. “If you mess up it is not on your whole team, it all falls on you when you lose.
“It is fun to do. There are individual tournaments, there are team tournaments. If you lose it is on yourself, you have got to pick yourself up and go to the next one.”
Beavers has his goals set high for this season, not only for himself, but for the entire Graham team, which includes veterans in eight weight classes and newcomers in six.
“To qualify again and get to go to state this year,” Beavers said. “Last year I didn’t do too bad for missing half of the season, I still made district champion so not too bad....
“It we can take a bus to state, that would be amazing. We have a lot of guys that have been doing this for a while and we have got a lot of experience and I think we can go far this year.”
Woodward and assistant coach Ben Fritz have developed a competitive program that begins at a young age, something Beavers has been a part of for much of his life.
“I just love it here, Coach Woodward and Benji, they have worked with me a lot to get to where I am now and plus with club wrestling a little bit here and there,” Beavers said. “It just builds you up and we just have a great coaching staff here.”
Jennings echoes those sentiments.
“It is fun, Coach Woodward and Coach Fritz are fun to be around,” Jennings said. “They are good coaches, I like having them as my coaches, I have had Coach Woodward for four years for football and wrestling.
“Coach Fritz, he is an awesome wrestling coach, they both teach us an awful lot.”
Part of those lessons come from dealing with the stress of a physical sport in which it can be easy to lose focus and lash out at an opponent.
“Self-control, you are out there, you may get hit or something and you don’t like it, but you can’t just haul off and hit the guy back,” said Jennings, who would also like to wrestle at the next level. “You have got to have self-control and discipline out there.
“Sometimes you think about it, but you can’t do that to your teammates though, they need your win.”
His goal ahead sounds difficult, but keep winning, and who knows.
“Just to be better than what I did last year,” Jennings said. “Win 100 matches, I don’t know if I can get there, we’ll have to see at the end, you have to keep winning.”
All the way to Salem and the state meet.
—Contact Brian Woodson