Abraham Perez likes high school so far. He’s been a student at Forsyth Central for just over two months. He says he likes the fact he can walk wherever he wants on campus. The classes are more fun. He’s already a big fan of Algebra.
To older students, Perez—who stands 5-foot-6 and weighs just over 110 pounds—comes across as a shy newcomer. He wears a black Forsyth Central hoodie and keeps to himself. He’s 14-years old and barely visible in a crowded hallway, but there’s one person at Central who already knows everything there is to know about the youngster.
Wrestling coach Jeremiah Walker instructs his team on the mats in the old gymnasium after school. The archaic air conditioning system blares a loud hum through the building, the air is thick—not in a good way—and students perform drills against one another as Walker trots from circle to circle, offering instruction to youngsters.
Waiting in the stands and around the mats, middle school and elementary school kids and their parents file in to wait for their practice. They’re clad in “Forsyth Central Wrestling” t-shirts and snapping their headgear in place.
Walker has built the program from the ground up. He takes time between instructions to say hello to parents of younger athletes as they walk into the gym, but he rarely has to walk over to Perez. As well, Perez is so quiet, you may not notice—still practicing in his thick black hoodie and black sweatpants—that he’s even there.
In this crowd, Perez stands out—as long as you point him out for yourself. His moves are precise. He maintains an expressionless face.
He lifts a teammate into the air and takes him to the mat with an emphatic thump.
When Walker talks about Perez, he lights up. You can tell that he’s plenty familiar with the freshman.
“When the rest of the team looks over and sees him working they want to emulate that,” Walker said. “He understands that there’s always room to improve. His focus is always there.”
Perez went to Walker before the season and asked to be a team captain, but he admits he was only being half serious—get to know him enough, and you’ll meet his lighter side. Walker obliged anyways, and it was a no-brainer.
“His strongest components are his unrelenting work ethic, and he’s so coachable,” Walker said. “Those are two of the number one things coaches look for in their athletes, and he’s coming in as a freshman and already possessing those components.”
Turns out, Perez isn’t that shy. Just quiet. Get him away from a circle on a mat, and he’s a lot like any other freshman in high school.
“I can be childish,” Perez said. “I’ve started being more demanding so my teammates will take me seriously.”
Being a team captain as a freshman means being a team leader by default, and it’s been a process for Perez. He says because he doesn’t talk that much that he uses his actions in the gym to point teammates in the right direction.
“Being the captain can be hard. People may not take you seriously at first,” Perez said.
But nobody embraces the grind more than Perez. He says he doesn’t play any other sports. He rarely goes to the movies on weekends, and he prefers not to play video games.
“I wake up at 5 a.m. every day. Get to school to go to practice, then go to class until the afternoon, then either go home or to practice. Eat, take a shower, I’ll do homework and then I go to sleep,” Perez said.
He has Saturdays off. He prefers to use that time to either hang out with his family and friends, or sleep and recover.
Perez has been wrestling since the fourth grade. He says it was in his sixth grade year that he fully committed to wrestling, claiming it helped him focus and that it helped him clear his head on a regular basis. In 2012 he saw the wrestling competition in the Olympics and realized his goals of becoming a top wrestler.
He also realizes the benefit of his program. His brother, Brian, 20, wrestled at Forsyth Central, but without any experience until high school. Now, more athletes are coming into the program ready to roll thanks to Walker’s implementation of a youth arm. Perez is a product of that new norm.
“It’s more exercising. More conditioning. You’ve got to take it seriously,” Perez said.
Perez and his teammates will have their first match next weekend. It will be the first ever high school match for the freshman.
“I’m nervous, but also excited,” he said.
He’ll have to get his weight down to 106 for the match. Even as a 14-year old, he has to cut out certain foods his classmates get to eat.
“I can’t have bacon. That’s my favorite food,” Perez said.