Eli Williams is laser-focused on what lies ahead for him.

The Westerville North senior wants to serve his country and thinks the best way to do that is to attend a military academy.

By accepting an appointment to the Air Force Academy, located near Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Feb. 11, Williams attained a goal he had set as an eighth-grader at Blendon Middle School.

"I always had an aspiration to serve in the military and a service academy seemed the best route," he said. "There was a guy I looked up to (2016 North graduate Andrew Malick) who is scheduled to graduate from the Naval Academy this spring. I made it my goal after learning about it through him. I pushed and pushed until I finally made it happen.

"I knew (Malick) from when my brother, Jack (a 2017 North graduate), used to hang around him. (Malick) rubbed off on me and showed me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do to get there."

Williams worked hard in the classroom, where he has a 4.74 GPA, and on the mat for the North wrestling team. A two-time district qualifier, he went 2-2 at 170 pounds in the Division I district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby to finish the season 21-11.

"Eli is a very smart kid, and he did a good job setting the standard for our younger kids," Warriors wrestling coach David Grant said. "He worked just as hard on the mat as he did in the classroom. He was just like having another assistant coach."

Athletics director Wes Elifritz said Williams saved his best work in the classroom for his senior season. He had a 5.04 GPA in the second quarter of the 2019-20 school year and had a 4.98 GPA in the third quarter.

"Eli is a really well-rounded student," Elifritz said. "He not only wrestles, but he also was the student-section leader for football in the fall, and he painted the spirit rock every single week no matter what.

"As a junior and senior, he also was a part of WALT, or the Warrior Athlete Leadership Team. That's a group of our top student-athletes that lead by example in their respective sports and out of competition. Also, they help build a bridge to help bring about a positive culture at Westerville North and in the community. He is just an all-around great citizen that represents the school as well as any student-athlete could."

Williams played football as a freshman and sophomore, but wrestled all four years at North. He said the skills he learned in wrestling can help him build a base for potential success at the Air Force Academy and throughout life.

"Wrestling helped to give me the mental fortitude that it takes to work through adversity and find out not only how to be successful, but also how to bring others up with you," Williams said. "You're not only helping yourself reach the goal, but also bringing your teammates along with you.

"Everything you do, you want to finish the job. You want to fight until it's over and make sure you finish the job."

Williams helped the Warriors finish the job this past winter, as they won their first league championship since 2016. After three consecutive seasons of placing second to Olentangy Liberty in the OCC-Buckeye Division, North defeated the host Patriots 41-29 on Feb. 13 to finish 5-0 in the league, ahead of runner-up Liberty (4-1).

"It started at the beginning of the year and we kept working and working toward that goal," Williams said. "When we started to look at the matchups later in the season, we knew we had the opportunity to win, and we went in thinking we could win that dual.

"When the dual was going the way we thought it would, we took the air out of the room for a lot of people. We worked hard and then we were ready for the battle. We went out and did what we needed to do to finish the job."

Williams said Grant also had an impact on him off the mat.

"Coach Grant taught me everything, especially in character development," Williams said. "He builds you up as a person as much as a wrestler. He works with you on how you can have community outreach and bring people up. It's not just about wrestling, but how you make yourself a better person."

Williams plans to major in mechanical engineering at Air Force Academy, and he's also looking to branch out athletically. While he doesn't plan to continue his wrestling career, he wants to try out a new sport -- rugby.

"It's always been a sport that I have been drawn to because it's like a combination of football and wrestling," Williams said. "I have never played (rugby), but I have watched it and understand it. It's something that I always wanted to try, and I always thought I could do it. It's definitely a change of pace and a new chapter for me, so I might as well try when I have the opportunity."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

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