A Christmas break binge came ever so close to causing the ruination of Prescott Garner, the transfer 125-pounder for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's wrestling team.
Making his first trip from Chattanooga back to his West Linn, Ore., home, Garner found the holiday fare and his mom's cooking more than he could resist.
"I was over [weight] by 20 pounds when I got back," the former Naval Academy wrestler said.
He had broken one of the cardinal rules of the wrestler's lifestyle - at UTC, anyway - and learned a painful lesson. His transgression raised more than a few eyebrows on the Mocs' coaching staff.
"Without a doubt, dealing with weight management is one of the toughest things for a wrestler," head coach Heath Eslinger said. "It's an added stress no other athlete has to deal with. You have to be so conscious of what you eat."
Eslinger referred to an oft-repeated story of Iowa wrestler Barry Davis and his disappearance from the team. Davis quit shortly before the Big Ten tournament, and coach Dan Gable found Davis in a grocery store aisle eating to his heart's content.
"Weight management is part of the struggle," Eslinger said. "Dealing with the struggle the right way is what leads to the top. If you never deal with it, you never get there."
Davis broke in his struggle, but with Gable's encouragement and his own perseverance he rebounded to win an NCAA championship three weeks later.
"That's where we are with Prescott," Eslinger said. "He had a struggle but met it head on, and he's hitting the right stride at the right time."
The Mocs wrestle in the Southern Conference tournament Saturday at Boone, N.C.
"Something like that affects you physically, but it wears on you mentally because you had reached your goal and all of a sudden the process is starting over," Eslinger said. "What I would say about Prescott: That joker trains super-hard on a daily basis. Physically he has been very, very consistent in his intensity of training. But when your weight gets out of control, it's an emotional drain more than physical although your body isn't at its peak when you have to go through the [trimming] process again."
Mocs assistant Rocco Mansueto said that with the physical aspects of his career again under control, Garner's competitive fire and love of winning are following.
"He came in last week and we watched some film of his November matches and then the January-February periods," Mansueto said. "There was a difference in how he was approaching the early matches."
What the Mocs staff is waiting to see is Garner stomping his feet and rolling his shoulders as if he owns the mat, much as he did before Christmas.
"You could see mentally and physically from his body language that he was eager to step to the line and that he was going to be ready to compete," Mansueto said. "He has an iron mind and he's fairly consistent in the practice room. You never know whether he's had a good day or bad when he comes to practice."
Garner has been to the NCAA tournament previously, having qualified as a freshman at Navy, where he went 29-16 before a 1-2 showing at the big show.
"I was doing pretty well until right before Christmas and then struggled with my weight and then got it back under control but was burned out a little," he said. "Weight gain doesn't help my mood, but I'm feeling good. My weight's under control.
"In the end, once you get to the SoCon championships or the nationals, what happened before doesn't matter. I intend to be a SoCon champ and then definitely win a few matches at the nationals."