Carson Gentle does not shy away from hurting feelings. In fact, that's sort of what he expects to do.
Oh sure, the McCallie School junior is as likable and respectful as they come, smiling and speaking to faculty and other students as makes his way across campus, but when the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder steps on the wrestling mat or the football field, his only concern is physically dominating anyone who lines up opposite him.
"He certainly wrestles with an attitude," McCallie wrestling coach Jake Yost said. "You wouldn't know he's that intense just from looking at him, until you put him in that environment. That's when he goes from perfect gentleman to becoming really nasty, which we love.
"That type of competitive mindset is becoming more of a rare thing in young athletes. Carson just holds himself to a higher standard than a lot of guys."
Gentle will try to work his way through the 285-pound bracket of the TSSAA Division II state traditional tournament starting Friday at Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy. If things go right for him, he'll still be wrestling late Saturday afternoon, when the finals are scheduled.
McCallie junior athlete Carson Gentle
Although he has yet to lose on the mat this season, Gentle enters the state tourney seeded 11th, which is much lower than he would have been had he not had to forfeit three matches at last week's D-II East Region tournament due to illness.
He also had to withdraw from a match earlier this season after taking an inadvertent knee that gashed his face and forced him to sit out a week while in concussion protocol. Now healthy again, Gentle enters the weekend wanting to erase the stain of those blemishes on a season that otherwise includes 24 wins.
"I couldn't even work out for a whole week during concussion protocol, and I honestly thought I was going to go insane," said Gentle, who carries a 4.1 GPA and an undeniable air of self-confidence. "Just sitting around, not being able to compete in anything was pretty awful.
"I love that when you're on the mat, you're on your own. It's just you and the other guy. That's what I'm looking forward to the most."
Already committed to the University of Tennessee in football and projected to play defensive end for the Volunteers, Gentle began wrestling practice just three days after McCallie's semifinal loss in the football playoffs last November and barely more than a week later had joined the basketball team.
Multisport athletes are becoming rare, but Gentle is an even rarer breed as one who competes in four sports during the school year, including both wrestling and basketball simultaneously. Although he hadn't played organized basketball since elementary school, Gentle helped the Blue Tornado on the court for the first three months of this season before deciding last week to begin concentrating solely on preparing for the individual-based state tournament in wrestling.
"The biggest difference from last year is he has developed a few more tools and his technique is better," Yost said. "He recognized that being an incredible athlete isn't enough to win a state title, so he committed himself to learning more about the sport and how to use his athleticism in a way that will be beneficial in a match.
"The whole basketball thing during our season, I've never heard of anyone else doing that before. Especially not at such a high level, which just says what type of special athlete he is."
Being two years younger than twin brothers Austin and Jack, who played on the offensive line at Harvard last season, helped solidify the chip on his shoulder. He was such a naturally gifted athlete growing up that his parents began voluntarily moving him up to face older competition.
"He lost some matches to some really good Nashville athletes, and he did not like that. He couldn't stand losing," said Gentle's dad, T.J., who played on Marion County's 1992 state championship football team and later at Middle Tennessee State University. "As the season went on, he seemed to learn from those mistakes and find a way to get better. He never lost to the same kid again."
During Gentle's freshman football season, he was forced into starting action by injuries along the defensive front. In a playoff game against Christian Brothers, which had a massive offensive line, Gentle was pushed around in the early stages of the first half.
But similar to his days of either fighting back against his tougher big brothers or older competition, he eventually began finding ways to slice past blockers to make several disruptive stops in the backfield.
"Being a younger brother definitely set me up to learn a few dirty tricks," Gentle said. "Maybe it just toughened me up and made me mean. It definitely instilled a competitive drive to not let anyone get the best of me."
A Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalist last season, he finished with 51 tackles, five sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, and he was the first prep player to commit to Tennessee for the 2024 recruiting class.
"Carson is a difference maker and someone who isn't afraid to hold his teammates accountable for how they're preparing or playing," Blue Tornado football coach Ralph Potter said. "When you have someone with as much ability as he has, plus his attitude and approach to competing, you've got something special.
"He is just a fierce competitor. He'll be out there throwing discus and shot when track season starts because he has to be competing in something all the time. I just hope he doesn't decide to play soccer this spring, too."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.