By Mike Schoeffel
Troy Pugh was a small kid in middle school.
At just 80 pounds, he was significantly skinnier than most of his classmates. But that didn’t thwart his goal of becoming an athlete. Instead of playing a sport where he’d be forced to go head-to-head with larger kids — like basketball or football — he chose one where he’d only see opponents his own size: wrestling.
“It made the most sense,” he said. “It leveled the playing field a bit.”
Pugh, a senior at Caroline High, began wrestling in eighth grade and has since doubled his weight to 160 pounds. His athletic career came to a culmination, of sorts, on Jan. 23, when he helped the Cavaliers defeat King William and Chancellor on Senior Night at Caroline High School.
Pugh is one of four seniors on the Cavaliers roster, the others being Eric Smith, James George, and Sean Davis. It’s Pugh, though, that holds a special place in head coach Steve Swanton’s heart. Swanton — a burly, frank man who truly looks like a wrestling coach — has known Pugh since middle school. Pugh is also the only senior to have wrestled all four years.
“It’s going to be hard to see him go,” said Swanton.
Pugh said Swanton has been “kind of like a parent to me,” and credits him for “teaching me everything I know about wrestling.” Swanton returned the compliment, saying Pugh is going to be the “toughest senior to forget.”
He admitted that Pugh has not had as much success during matches as either one of them would have hoped — he was 1-2 as of the new year — but that his hard work during practice over his high school career has helped to improve the team as a unit.
“He’s an all-state wrestler in practice,” said Swanton. “He helps the other kids get better every day. The other wrestlers around him are as good as they are because of what Troy does on the practice mat. He makes a lot of contributions that may not show up on the scorecard.”
By the numbers, 170-pound Smith is the most heralded senior in this year’s class. He’s used an aggressive, freewheeling style to build a 15-6 record this year. The 140-pound George, meanwhile, has been with the team since his sophomore year. Davis, who wrestles at 285 pounds, is in his first season on the mat.
“This has been a hard-working group,” said Swanton. “Leadership from the older guys is an important part of any team, and overall, they’ve done their job.”
Pugh said the thing he’ll miss most about high school wrestling is home matches.
“I like competing in front of everyone,” he said. “I even like rolling up the mats at the end of the night. It just makes me feel like a wrestler, you know?”
Though he plans to enroll in community college next year “because it’s cheaper,” as he put it, Pugh may be back in the Caroline High School gymnasium sooner rather than later.
“I want to come back and coach,” he said. “Swanton is the only full-time coach right now, so he needs all the help he can get. I’d like to be here for him and the team.”
The Cavaliers will finish the regular season with a pair of road matches, traveling to Patrick Henry on Jan. 30 and Deep Run on Jan. 31. The Battlefield District tournament is set for Feb. 3 at Eastern View High School.