PERRYSBURG: In wrestling, it’s not so much how a competitor falls, but how he or she gets back up.
Earlier this season, Copley’s Antwon Pugh fell hard, but that’s what made his 145-pound Perrysburg Division I District title on Saturday so much sweeter.
Pugh will head to Columbus with some company as Wadsworth’s Noah Baughman (120) and Joey Baughman (160) also won district championships, as did Brunswick’s Nick Kiussis (152).
A state placer last season, Pugh came into the Medina Invitational Tournament in December ready to prove himself in a semifinal match with Massillon Perry’s David Carr, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time.
Things got out of hand quickly after Carr pinned Pugh, and Pugh was given an individual misconduct penalty and kicked out of the tournament.
The situation remained heated after the match, and the Copley junior was suspended from the team for two weeks.
“He was low,” Indians coach Gary Kanaga said. “He made a mistake. This is a very emotional sport, a confrontational sport. We sat him out. It hurt him bad, but we rose up from that.
“He knew coming back what we expected out of him. He grew up a bit and faced the music.”
The outgoing Pugh internalized everything in that two-week span, refocused and came out the other side better.
It didn’t come without a little soul-searching, however.
“I felt pretty low, kind of out of character a little bit,” Pugh said. “Wrestling shows people’s character and I felt like I didn’t really show that. I was going through a little bit of stuff leading up to that. I felt real low. I was on the bottom.
“As soon as I found out I couldn’t practice, I thought, ‘Well, what are you doing to separate yourself off the mat?’ That’s where I have the advantage over people.
“Although I wasn’t allowed to practice in the room, I was working hard, doing something extra off the mat. It was starting over. We started out with goals at the beginning of the year. I ripped the paper up and started new goals halfway through the season and have been going forward with that. I was starting brand new away from everybody.”
That brand new Pugh has turned it up in the postseason, scoring four pins and a major decision among his eight wins as he heads to the state tournament.
His 6-3 decision over Perrysburg’s Brock Jones in the district final might look close on paper, but the match was never really in jeopardy.
“Personality-wise, family-wise, wrestling-wise, there’s a whole new mindset to it,” Pugh said. “I’m not just going out to win, I’m going out there and giving everything I’ve got, and I’m treating it like it’s my last match.”
With another year at Copley, there are plenty of more matches in store. What Pugh does Thursday in Columbus will be another chapter in his ever-growing book.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” Kanaga said. “We feel we’re one of the best and we’re out to prove it.
“He has taken everything in stride. We take it one day at a time, one week at a time, one match at time. He won sectionals. He won districts. Our job is to prove we’re the best next week in Columbus.”