Whitehall-Yearling High School wrestling coach Steve Pennington realized senior Alex Farrow had potential when they first met -- when Farrow was in second grade.
Farrow, who was introduced to the sport through the Little Rams Wrestling Club, has lived up to Pennington's expectations.
"He was my project when I took over 10 years ago," Pennington said. "His first year wrestling he went 0-25, and to see him grow into the wrestler that he is today, I take a lot of pride in that.
"He was a short, fat kid who didn't have a lot of athletic ability, but he has a giant heart. He was a sponge -- he just wanted to learn -- and he worked out like crazy. He never quit and I knew he was going to be something special."
Last season, Farrow earned his first berth to the Division II state tournament, where he went 0-2 at 220 pounds.
This season, returning to state is not enough. He wants to win.
"I want to win a state title, so I have to work really hard," Farrow said.
Farrow, whose weight ranges from 249 to 257 pounds, is competing at heavyweight. He improved to 27-1 by winning his weight class in the 17-team Licking Heights Invitational held Jan. 11 and 12.
The Rams scored 239 points to edge Westerville North (233) for the title. Ashden Gibson (26-0) was first at 138.
"I look better at 220, but I think I wrestle better at heavy, so I'm going to stay up here," said Farrow, whose lone loss came against Patrik Garren of Ready 5-3 in the finals of the Ready Winter Classic on Dec. 28.
Garren finished third at heavyweight in the Division III state tournament last season.
Whitehall scored 342.5 points to win the two-day, 19-team tournament at Ready ahead of runner-up Columbus West (161).
Farrow and Garren could meet again in the Cruiser Invitational on Jan. 26 at Groveport.
Last season, Farrow won a sectional title at Big Walnut and finished fourth at district at Uhrichsville Claymont.
He credits the program's coaching staff for his success. His father, Tim, is an assistant coach.
As a freshman, Farrow went 0-2 at district at 215. He went 2-2 at district at 215 as a sophomore.
"We have a lot of really good coaches that come in and help us and really good wrestlers that help all the time," Farrow said. "That's why I think I got (to state)."
On Jan. 9, the Rams defeated host Chillicothe 54-21 and Frankfort Adena 78-0.
They will compete Saturday, Jan. 19, against host Teays Valley and Dresden Tri-Valley before opening competition in the first state team tournament with a regional quarterfinal Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Whitehall will compete in Region 14-A with Columbus South, DeSales, Jonathan Alder, Linden-McKinley and Mifflin. The tournament pairings were scheduled to be released Jan. 14.
Pennington believes his team is the favorite to win its bracket and face the winner of Region 14-B on Feb. 6. That region includes Big Walnut, Buckeye Valley, Caledonia River Valley, Lexington, Shelby and Sparta Highland, and Pennington expects Lexington, which was ranked fourth in last week's Division II state poll behind top-ranked St. Paris Graham, to advance.
"It's going to be a good match," Pennington said. "I have wrestled that dual in my head probably 100 times already and we're still weeks away. Beating Lexington is going to be a tall task. I think we still fly under the radar a little bit, especially statewide."
If the Rams reach the tournament's final three matches, which will be held Feb. 9 at Ohio State's St. John Arena, they will face a big decision -- compete in the state tournament or in the MSL-Ohio Division tournament, which will be held the same day at Heath.
Pennington and athletics director Mike Ferguson's attempts to have MSL officials move the league tournament to another day have failed, and Pennington has indicated if his team reaches the state tournament's final day, it most likely would choose to skip the league tournament.
"There's no concessions about it," Pennington said. "I have spoken to every one of my wrestlers and asked them if they would rather go to the league tournament or the state duals if we qualify and it was unanimous, 100 percent, everyone would go to state duals. I'm going to do what my kids tell me to do."