It shouldn't be much of a surprise.
Vandalia's wrestling program has always been good, and it seems like after a team state trophy last year the Vandals are hitting another peak in program history.
So when a wrestler comes along in the 285 weight class and wins regional and sectional titles, it's good, but definitely not unheard of.
But what Anthony Enlow is doing is strange even for Vandalia. Not only has Enlow raced to the state tournament in the highest weight class, he's doing it as a 14-year-old.
Yes, Vandalia's Anthony Enlow is a freshman, and he's powering his way through the Class 1A heavyweight class.
There was little doubt last year when Enlow muscled his way to a Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation championship in 275. But this year, he was wrestling with kids three, four years older than him, and there's always an unknown of dealing with the jump to high school.
"Yeah, we weren't sure," Vandalia coach Jason Clay said. "We knew he had a lot of experience. Just because he's just a big guy, he needed practice partners so I and some of the other assistant coaches are about his size and we worked out with him some.
"But you never know. You never know how long it'll take."
Turns out, not very long.
But Enlow is far from a rookie. While he turns 15 in July, he's been wrestling for nearly 10 years. After a stint with karate wasn't his thing, he latched onto wrestling, something his cousin Chaston Womack was into.
"I tried wrestling one time and ever since then, I've been hooked," Enlow said.
The biggest issue was dealing with the strength of a weight class that features mainly juniors and seniors. Enlow said he's doubled down on his technique and making sure when he can't outmuscle someone, he can outthink them.
"Most definitely. I've worked on technique because I knew I'd be outmatched in strength," Enlow said. "I knew I had to put as work in with technique as they had strength to counteract it."
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"He's got good size and build for such a young wrestler," Clay said. "He has good mat strategy as well, and stays in good position. In heavyweight, it's all about good position."
Combining that strength with smarts came into play in the sectional final. Wrestling Roxana's Brett Nyswonger for a third time this season and splitting the matches, Enlow sat down with Clay and studied film.
"I knew I had to ride him hard because he's going to try to stand up and overpower me," Enlow said.
The plan worked to perfection as Enlow prevented any escape and won 1-0.
Concentrating on technique was necessary as well because of the different ways wrestlers carry the weight.
"It's always difficult to know what to expect wrestling people in high school. Some of them are short and big ol' guys. Some are tall and lanky," Enlow said. "There's just a variety of people. In IKWF, there was never really any variation. Everyone was really all one size."
Wrestling in 285 does have its drawbacks. There are far fewer wrestlers in the weight class, and fewer still that have the wrestling chops Enlow does.
So even with the physical tools Enlow has, Clay said it's the work he's done on sharpening them that had the coach encouraged.
"Physically, he's pretty mature for his age," Clay said. "And he has the experience factor -- there's no supplement for that. His parents have done a good job of taking him places. Being a bigger guy, brackets are smaller and that experience is so huge."
Last April, Enlow wrestled in the USA National Middle School Duals, taking on wrestlers from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Before that, he went to duals in Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee. It was a chance to not only push himself, but a chance to see different styles as well.
"Once you wrestle around in this area for a while, you see the same kids," Enlow said. "I kind of wanted to venture out and have some new kids to wrestle."
Now there's a real chance to come away from state with a medal in his first try. Enlow (39-4), one of two freshmen to make state in 285, will be joined by six other Vandals today in Champaign -- several who have already seen this stage.
Enlow is planning to keep his eyes open, keeping a watchful eye on opponents to pick up any useful tidbit he can. When it comes time to hit the mat, that's where the freshman plans to work in all those knowledge built up over the course of the season.
"He's tried to expand in practice and put a couple of things into matches," Clay said. "I think he's getting a little more confidence."
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