ASHEBORO — The progression of a high school student-athlete in any sport is fun to watch. Most successful prep athletes enjoy a steady rise from an underclassman to an upperclassmen, taking four years at the high school level and the many, many years prior to high school in youth leagues, exercise programs and weightlifting sessions in order to obtain athletic excellence.

Asheboro High School junior wrestler Michael Smith is an exception. He has become one of the top wrestlers in the state in a very short amount of time as just four years after beginning his wrestling career, he will be at the Greensboro Coliseum today to begin NCHSAA state 3-A tournament action.

He enters the state tournament as a regional champion as he improved to 45-1 on the season with four wins at the Midwest

Regional last week at Eden Morehead High School. Those four wins included three pins, which brought his season total to 37 falls in 46 matches, quite an impressive percentage. His only setback came to a wrestler from 4-A Cardinal Gibbons.

“He has some intangibles I can’t coach,” AHS wrestling coach Wes Berrier said. “He has great hips and great leg strength. He has great explosion when he’s coming off the mat. He knows how to turn on the switch when he goes on to the mat. He is a nervous wreck before, but when he gets on the mat, he has that mat savvy. He hasn’t reached his full potential. He will be a great college wrestler if he decides to go that route.”

A few short years ago, Berrier wouldn’t have said that.

Smith, who also stars for the AHS football team as a defensive lineman, began wrestling in eighth grade at the urging of some friends.

“I wasn’t very good,” Smith said.

But there was something about the sport that Smith enjoyed.

“I like that it’s competition between one on one,” Smith said. “You can’t blame your losses or mistakes on anyone but yourself.”

Once he arrived at AHS, he received plenty of encouragement from the AHS football coaches, including former head coach Owen George, to compete in wrestling because if would help in his football development.

As a freshman, Smith didn’t even crack the starting lineup. He wrestled just 15 times, finishing 7-8. As a sophomore, he began showing signs of becoming a stellar wrestler, but he admitted he just wasn’t committed enough. He went 31-11 in his second year.

“My sophomore year, I was wrestling in matches, but I wasn’t dedicated to trying as hard as I do now,” Smith said.

In the last off-season, with the constant urging and coaching from Berrier and AHS assistant coach Jake Berrier, Smith began to put the time in that is necessary to become an elite wrestler. He went to numerous wrestling tournaments and left those tournaments with plenty of medals.

He continued to work hard in the weight room and the successes continued

leading to the start of his junior campaign.

“His work ethic in the weight room and his commitment to the weight room and the commitment he has shown this year,” Wes Berrier said as the reasons Smith is enjoying such a stellar season. “He committed to working out not only for football, but he didn’t miss a workout for the wrestling team, either. It’s a true testament of him being committed and following our program and its paying off.”

As the season progressed, the wins mounted.

“I probably surprised a lot of people in Asheboro and Randolph County,” Smith said. “But we saw this in the off-season when I beat a couple of state champs. Me and my coaches understood how good I could be. I always knew I could do this because of the coaching I get.”

There is another reason Smith has been so successful. As in football, where players watch plenty of film on their opponents, Smith searches the internet for clips of his wrestling opponents.

“Before going into regionals, not many people in Randolph County do the research like me and my coaches,” Smith said. “I go home and look up the wrestlers I am going to wrestle and see if I can find any film. I do a lot of research.”

It paid off at the regionals as Smith recorded a first-round pin and a second-round pin in the first two rounds before earning a hard-fought 2-1 victory in the semifinals. He then earned a first-round pin in the regional championship match.

“We expected him to do well, be a state qualifier, but we weren’t expecting the success he had,” Wes Berrier said.

Now Smith has another goal in mind.

“It was a great feeling,” Smith said about winning the regional title. “But the day after, I felt I have to go to work again. Even though I was a No. 1 seed, anyone at state can win it. It was time to get back to work again.”