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THE GRIND: Lambert's Kohlins hungry for redemption
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Lambert sophomore Eric Kohlins is eager for his shot at an Area 6-AAAAAA individual title after an illness prevented him from competing last season. - photo by Brian Paglia

Health can be a fleeting thing in wrestling, and Lambert sophomore Eric Kohlins knows that all-too-well.

Two days before the area individual duals last year, Kohlins came down with the flu and saw his chances of qualifying for the state tournament evaporate overnight. Kohlins later watched as several wrestlers he beat in the regular season went on to place in the top six at state.

Now, barring any late setbacks, Kohlins will get his shot at the Area 6-AAAAAA traditional duals this Saturday afternoon.

“I’m hoping for some redemption,” Kohlins said. “I didn’t even get the opportunity to go to state last season, so this year I feel the need to show people what I can do.”

Clad Monday afternoon in gray sweatpants and a white Lambert football shirt, Kohlins, a fullback for coach Louis Daniel’s team, gave off no impression that this week was different from any other. He warmed up quietly in a corner of Lambert’s auxiliary gym with his younger brother and practice partner, Will, as coach Kevin Contardi paced the mat.

One gets the sense from talking to Kohlins even for 15 minutes that he’s as even-keel as a high school sophomore can be—a valuable trait when alone on the mat, with coaches, fans and teammates shouting advice and encouragement from all four sides.

“I like the big stage,” Kohlins said. “I’m not really a rah-rah kind of guy. You’ve got to keep a level head out there. When you’re wrestling, if something goes against you, you just have to forget about it.”

There’s not much time in a wrestling match to dwell on negatives: three rounds, two minutes apiece, if you can make it that far. Those six minutes can feel like 60 to wrestlers but, in reality, a half-second, a shoulder a half-inch above the mat, can change the complexion of a match.

“You have to have an aggressive mentality of, ‘I’m going to go out there and do anything possible to win,’” Kohlins said. “I think I do have that and have developed that over time.”

Bill Kohlins, president of the Lambert wrestling booster club and a former high school wrestler, encouraged his two sons to try the sport at a young age.

Both obliged, and Eric won the first tournament he ever competed in. He was hooked.

“You’re just out there on your own,” Kohlins said. “It’s you against him. You don’t have any other guys. If you’re prepared and you’ve trained, you’ll win. If you don’t, the other guy’s better.”

Will, too, caught the wrestling bug and was a kid’s state champion at 160 pounds last year. The two brothers, 18 months apart in age, go back and forth every day in practice—Eric gets the best of Will one day, and vice versa—and it’s been beneficial for both sides, though Eric said any animosity gets left in the gym.

Eric saw what it took to compete with the best in high school last year: the endurance, the mentality, the technique. He felt obligated to pass on some of that knowledge.

Entering his sophomore season, Eric’s goal was simply to qualify for the state tournament. When he handled an out-of-state wrestler with ease at Lambert’s Hook ‘Em Duals in a semifinal match he expected to be a dogfight, it was time to adjust expectations.

Kohlins has his sights set this weekend on winning the area title at 160 pounds and a finish in the top six at state duals in Macon in early February.

Whether it’s North Forsyth 160-pounder Tanner Buggs on Saturday or a wrestler from No. 1-ranked Archer, the goal doesn’t change: win.

“I go out there and wrestle my match,” Kohlins said. “You do what you know you can do.”