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WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Austin Thornton, North Forsyth
Raiders senior battled through injury to reach state finals
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North Forsyth senior Austin Thornton reached the 195-pound final at the Class AAAAAA state tournament despite wrestling with a torn ACL all season. - photo by David McGregor

Austin Thornton was wrestling with a coach at a summer camp when he got the feeling something was wrong with his right knee.

He knew this feeling. It was the same feeling he had two years ago when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a high school football game that ruined much of his sophomore season of wrestling. This time, Thornton backed off. An off-day awaited. Maybe he could use it to let his knee heal. Maybe it wasn’t that bad.

But the pop came anyway – he knew the sound well – and with it a choice: Get surgery and miss his senior season of wrestling or wait and endure the pain?

The North Forsyth senior chose to wait, to bear his injury for the chance to get back to the state tournament.

And so Thornton made the most of it, compiling a 58-6 record, tying a school record with 46 pins and reaching the finals of the Class

AAAAAA Traditional Wrestling Tournament at 195 pounds to be named the Forsyth County News’ 2013-14 County Wrestler of the Year.

"As my final year wrestling in high school, I would say it was a successful year," Thornton said. "Some things were, well, not as good as I wanted them to be, but for the most part, the big picture, it was good."

Indeed, Thornton went from a mere state qualifier who didn’t place his junior season to the 195 finals with a torn ACL. In the process, he broke an eight-year drought in which North went without a wrestler in the finals at the state tournament. He led the county in wins, pins and surely grit.

Thornton’s physical challenge required mental endurance. Match to match, the pain in his knee remained, and Raiders coach Travis Jarrard didn’t let Thornton complain.

"You had to push through it," Thornton said, "to make sure that you weren’t going to lose that match."

Plus, Thornton had all the motivation he needed in the urgency of finality of his senior season.

"Every time I was like, ‘This may be my last go,’" Thornton said. "When it came down to the individual tournament to qualify to go on [to state], I was like, ‘This could be my last match.’

"It came down to how much did I want it? I wanted to get it."