Bexley High School wrestling coach Shawn Straub thought he had seen the last of Cameron Stewart after he quit the team last season.

Bexley High School wrestling coach Shawn Straub thought he had seen the last of Cameron Stewart after he quit the team last season.

A year later, Stewart is back with the team, and Straub couldn't be happier.

Stewart, a senior who is competing at 170 pounds, was voted a team captain by his teammates and has an 8-4 record heading into the Licking Heights Invitational on Friday, Jan. 13, and Saturday, Jan. 14.

"(Last season) Cameron was uncomfortable with the new coaching staff and felt like he didn't fit in," said Straub, who is in his second season with the Lions. "He didn't finish the season the way he wanted or the way we would have liked him to.

"To make a long story short, he has made a remarkable turnaround. He's a leader in our locker room. He's absolutely a kid that I look toward to lead our young team."

Stewart wouldn't say what led to his departure last season, but he conceded that he was to blame.

"It was a number of things. It was my fault because (Straub's) the coach and I'm not," he said. "We figured it out.

"This year I came back with a better attitude. I'm trying to step it up. It's my senior year and I decided I wanted to do well this season."

After leaving the team last season, Stewart pondered trying out for the boys basketball team, as he played the sport when he was a freshman. However, he found it hard to leave behind all of the friends he had on the wrestling team.

"We ran into each other during the summer a couple of times and he'd always shake my hand," Straub said of Stewart. "We were always civil with each other. The more I watched him play football last fall, the more I thought maybe we should give this thing another go.

"About the middle of (football) season, I approached him and said, 'Now, Cameron, I'd like you to at least consider coming back out for the wrestling team.'"

Stewart's response was simple.

"He looked me right in the eyes and said, 'Coach, I'm going to come back out,'" Straub said. "Everything else is kind of history after that. He has become a solid leader in the wrestling room and a great leader for our inexperienced kids."

Stewart said he is a much different wrestler than when he started competing as a sophomore. He has built up his endurance and has been working on shooting in on his opponents.

"I'm ready. I feel like I'm prepared for everything," said Stewart, who has pinned five opponents this season. "Last year I wasn't in shape. I was out of breath during every match. This season I haven't felt that way since my first match."

Stewart was a win away from competing for a spot in the top four in the Ready Winter Classic on Dec. 28 and 29 as the Lions finished 16th (52.5) of 21 teams behind champion Whitehall (274).

Bexley finished ninth in the Ready Winter Classic last year, but Straub said the Silver Knights raised the level of competition this season.

"We got worked over pretty good there," Straub said. "They took every team that was rated as a B team and eliminated them and invited some much stronger teams. About halfway through that first day, I got a sense we were at a much tougher tournament."

"We didn't bring that many people to the tournament because we had a few wrestlers who were out on break," Stewart said. "We may have lost some matches, but we never gave up. That's what I'm looking for in a team."

The Ready Winter Classic was the second of five tournaments in which the Lions will participate this season. After the Licking Heights Invitational, they will compete in the Grandview Invitational on Jan. 20 and 21 and the Nye Cardinal Classic on Feb. 4 at St. Charles before the postseason begins.

Bexley finished 11th (115) in the 15-team Sparta Highland Classic behind champion Medina (275) on Dec. 10.