Nathan Davis wasn't sure he belonged last year when he walked into the Williamson County Agricultural Expo in Franklin, Tenn.
He was, after all, from Sale Creek, a Class A school better known for its basketball and baseball, and just a third-year wrestler in a fledgling program. He was getting ready to test his mettle against a talented state-tournament field with numerous competitors who got on a mat before they could ride a bicycle.
"I was definitely nervous. It was the first time I'd been to a tournament that size with that caliber of wrestlers," he said. "I had a guy from Bradley that first match, and I think that big-school name put some fear into my head."
Davis went 0-1.
"He lost to the Bradley kid, and the Bradley kid then lost to [tournament runner-up] Cody Davis from Pigeon Forge," Sale Creek coach Tom Moss recalled.
Davis, the Panthers' first two-time state qualifier, and others like him won't have to worry this year about losing one and going home. At the repeated urging of the state coaches' association, the TSSAA changed the championship tournament to a double-elimination event.
"I'm more comfortable this time around," Davis said. "I feel I'm more prepared and that I have a chance of doing better."
He isn't thinking, though, about double-elimination and second chances. The junior placed second this past Saturday in the Region 4 tournament behind state veteran Goose Manning of Ooltewah. Two of his three losses (in 35 matches) have been to Manning.
Davis had to beat Soddy-Daisy's Blaike Henry, the state's fourth-ranked 171-pounder, to get to the region championship match.
"I knew I had at least two big matches because I was seeded third," Davis said. "I knew I'd get Blaike in the semis and then Goose, whom I had lost to the week before in a dual meet."
He edged Henry 8-7 before losing to Manning 10-4, and Moss is certain that the match with Henry was no fluke.
"It was a battle back and forth all the way. If they wrestled 10 times, you might get a different winner each time," the coach said. "I think [Davis] snuck up on a lot of people, and part of that was me. I wasn't interested in him getting a lot of notoriety."
Now it's too late.
Moss said he isn't surprised at Davis' success although he is part of a six-man Panthers team and sometimes struggles for workout partners.
"His work ethic is so good and he has a great will to win," Moss said. "He's a super kid but probably not one you'd want to roll around on the mat with."
It's a matter now of finding workout partners for what has become a one-man team.
"We went to Baylor today," Moss said Monday, "and I think we'll be practicing against McCallie, East Ridge and some others tomorrow."
* Girls' state: Several area athletes will be competing in the Girls' Invitational this weekend at Franklin. The list includes Rhea County's Kelly Wood (112) and Nicole Beskin (185); Signal Mountain's Amanda Smith (120), Catherine Agnew (125) and Kelli Riccio (130); McMinn County's Abril Larra (138); and Soddy-Daisy's Brittany Price (138), Libbie Chapdelaine (148) and Samantha Vincent (155).