MOST OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: Foard's Braden Wharton is the man of the 2A league in the 2019-20 season

Fred T. Foard senior wrestler Braden Wharton posing with the 2020 North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Most Outstanding Wrestler plaque on Feb. 8 at the 2A dual-team state championship at the Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse. (Photo by Foard wrestling)Tigers’ senior wrestler Braden Wharton competing the TigerLand Classic at Fred T. Foard High School on December 21, 2019 in the 138-pound class. (O-N-E file photo by Cody Dalton/ CSD Photography)Foard senior wrestler Braden Wharton joined the 100 career wins club on  November 27, 2019. (Photo by Foard wrestling)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

The Fred T. Foard Tigers' wrestling team is finishing off its postseason the best way possible. On Feb. 8, the Tigers ran amuck in the 2020 NCHSAA 2A State Duals and pushed its way to its first dual-team state championship since 2015 (5th state title overall.) It also went undefeated at 47-0 in doing so.

It still has work to do as the individual state tournament is this weekend. At the forefront of the Tigers' success in the state duals was senior Braden Wharton.

Given his hard work throughout, Wharton was awarded the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the 2A – a distinguished honor he had yet to attain in his career.

In the state duals – wrestling in the 138-pound class – Wharton won four out of his five matches with the only loss coming against West Lincoln's Xavier Pendergrass (a member of the defending state champs) in the second round on Feb. 4. It was an 11-6 decision.

Nevertheless, he rallied back in the next three bouts; first, with an 8-3 decision win over Central Academy of Technology and Arts' Preston Scarborough. Then, in the 2A West Regional final against Pigsah, Wharton picked up a narrow 12-9 decision victory over McCrae Robb.

His final and arguably most important bout came on Feb. 8 in the Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse against Croatan's Anthony Marello in the 2A dual-team state championship. It was there that Wharton obtained his only victory through pinfall. It came in 2:35.

“We are the most competitive and hardworking team that I have ever been apart of,” said Wharton. “We had our eyes on winning a state championship especially after the losses in states the past two years. Every match we won was one step closer to our goal. That is how we stayed motivated.”

Even though he was deemed “outstanding,” it was quite a journey reaching this pinnacle of success. He struggled his freshman season – as some do – as he finished with a losing record (13-15).

However, he didn't rest on his laurels or give up and kept grinding to make the improvements he needed. Each season, Wharton has only gotten better: 42-12 his sophomore season, 39-7 his junior year and currently 47-8 in his senior season. He also accomplished the feat of joining the 100 career wins club this season.

“The competition in high school shocked me a lot as a freshman,” said Wharton. “Coach (Mike) Carey pushed me even before my freshman year to get into clubs and to work hard year round. The coaching staff also knows many moves and ways to get me motivated to win every match. I am blessed to be on a team like Fred T. Foard wrestling.”

He began his wrestling career back in the 6th grade. He said that after attending the Eye of the Tiger wrestling camp he became interested in the sport.

“Halfway through my 8th grade year was when I began to find the love of it,” he said. “I noticed I could be good at the sport. The adrenaline of it being all on you to win matches really got me into it also.”

In terms of his senior campaign during the 2019-20 season, Wharton won 24 of his 55 bouts via pinfall and was on a solid win streak from Jan. 2-23. He won 19 matches in-a-row before succumbing to Abingdon's Jack Newton on Jan. 23 in a 3-1 decision at 138-pounds.

As Wharton prepares for his individual state tournament run, he said that winning the MOW award gives him a big boost of confidence.

“I believe that I can hit every move that I am good at,” he said. “The two matches that I won during the third and fourth rounds of states already had me attacking and hitting moves I normally don't hit very often (when it came) in the dual finals. It was (a) great feeling.

“I knew that I had a great week but didn't expect it. The work has definitely paid off and I am grateful for it.”

As his senior year draws closer and closer to its end, Wharton talked about some of his fondest moments with the Tigers.

“Taking down West Lincoln and CATA was the greatest moment of the year,” he said. “They were rivals and we knew that they were tough teams to get through. Also, having many comeback matches versus teams like Enka and Northern Guilford where we were down by a lot and still believed we could win (were great moments).

“My best moment was qualifying (for individuals) my junior year after almost qualifying with a broken wrist the year before. My best overall moment was winning the state championship (this season).”

Speaking of moments, as aforementioned, Wharton will have an opportunity to add an individual title to his bag this weekend. The 2A West Regionals begin on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at West Wilkes High School and continue at West Wilkes on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Seeding is based on winning percentage and former qualifiers get bonus points added. One must finish in the top-4 of the 16 man bracket in order to qualify for state.

The Tigers are sending four seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen. Wharton is the No. 3-seed at 138. Senior Justin Whalen (152) is also a No. 3-seed. Freshman Brock Carey is the squad's only No. 2-seed as he heads into the tournament in the 106-pound class.

Senior Hunter Lloyd was supposed to be another No. 2-seed but he suffered a back injury that will keep him out of action. Evan Steiger replaces him in the 170-pound class but secures a No. 5-seed instead. Junior Jamie Richard (126) and Jacob Belton (195) will also be No. 5-seeds.

David Weaver (160), Mo McAfee (285) and Zane Birtchet (132) will all compete as No. 4-seeds. Dylan Smith (220) obtained the No. 10-seed while Dalton Jackson (145) earned the No. 9-seed. Ian Wilis (113) and Dawson Cody (120) both garnered No. 8-seeds in the tournament.

Junior Landon Foor (182) rounds out the individuals competing as the only No. 1-seed entering with an undefeated record.