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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka’s Mason Blackwell, top, takes down Matt Prater of Saint James.

After making his first state championship run look easy last year, Wetumpka’s Mason Blackwell had high expectations for himself and a target on his back entering his junior season. He never got complacent and went back to work to chase after another state title.

 “That’s the best thing you can ask for coming in as a first-year coach,” Wetumpka coach Anthony Byrd said. “It shows the younger kids what being that good looks like. He stayed humble and kept working.”

Blackwell did not need to reach his 72-win mark from last year but he finished with another remarkable record (55-2) and claimed another individual state title, this time at a higher weight division. He is the Elmore County Wrestler of the Year.

After winning the 2019 title at 170, Blackwell made the jump to 195 to start the season. He claimed victories in 17 of his 18 bouts with his lone loss being to an out-of-state opponent.

“It was a different challenge,” Blackwell said. “I couldn’t rely on just always being stronger than the other guy. I worked a lot on my moves and my technique.”

Blackwell dropped back down to 182 for the remainder of the season where he went 38-1, including finishing the year on a 37-match winning streak. 

In the last two seasons, Blackwell has won 127 of his 131 bouts and it is hard not to notice how big of a mismatch he poses to his opponents. However, Blackwell is always focused on improving.

“I think I have started to realize (how good I have been),” Blackwell said. “And I know people around here think I’m a big deal but then I go to one of those national tournaments and realize there are still a lot of guys better than me. I want to be that good.”

Blackwell’s first loss of the season came in the Gulf Coast Clash to Christopher Allen of Covington (Louisiana). His second and final loss was also at a tournament with multiple states represented but the loss was to Auburn’s Dylan Pearson in the Swede Umbach final.

“I don’t hold a grudge or anything like that but I definitely want to learn from those losses just like I learn from any win,” Blackwell said.

After grabbing silver medals in those two tournaments, Blackwell was not about to settle for anything less the rest of the season. He proved he learned something from those losses and reeled off three tournament wins — Grappling in Death Valley at Alexandria, Indians Invitational at Wetumpka, Julian McPhillips at Saint James — in a three-week span.

“He continued to work the way he was working and he never let up,” Byrd said. “We didn’t have to keep letting him know that he is what everyone is coming for. And he knows he is an example to every other kid on the team.”

Byrd said that was one of the biggest things he saw Blackwell improve upon throughout the season. He always expected Blackwell would be a leader by example but he became more of a verbal leader and put in a lot of extra time to help some of the younger wrestlers improve.

“It’s hard to say to see a big chunk of improvement since I didn’t get to see him until November,” Byrd said. “The biggest thing I saw was becoming a leader. He got better as the year went and took over that role.”

As for the future, Blackwell said he was not sure of his plans to wrestle at the next level or if he even wants to yet. However, Byrd said if Blackwell pursues it, he will certainly find success wherever he goes.

“As high as he wants, I don’t know if there is a ceiling,” Byrd said. 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.