It could have been just another year for Forrest Przybysz.
For a senior Jefferson wrestler who had already taken home individual titles at the state traditional tournament in his sophomore and junior seasons, winning a third was expected.
And yet, when time ran out on his championship match, and Przybysz had sealed a 9-2 win over Morgan County’s Austin Ross at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, the wrestler had his arms outstretched and a look of jubilation etched across his face.
“It doesn’t get boring,” he said nearly a month later. “It doesn’t get old. It’s just as exciting as the first time. Being in the Gwinnett Arena — it’s exhilarating.
“If you watch the clock, it just seems like an eternity. So, I tried not to look at the clock. As the time ticks down, it’s unreal. It’s exciting.”
With his title, Przybysz helped the Dragons claim their 12th consecutive team traditionals title. For the season, he compiled a 56-1 record, losing only to the nation’s No. 2-ranked wrestler, and was ranked No. 16 in the country.
For his accomplishments, he is The Times Wrestler of the Year.
Despite the success Przybysz experienced throughout his first three years at Jefferson (he took home sixth place at state as a freshman in addition to his two titles), he said he experienced more pressure as a senior.
For one, he was now counted on as a leader for the younger wrestlers on the team. It was a role that wasn’t entirely natural to him to begin with.
“It was pretty weird being a senior and having to step up as a leader,” he said. “We’ve always had a good group of seniors, so there was a lot of pressure to step up and fill their shoes.”
And while Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond said Przybysz isn’t the most outspoken person on his team, he was nonetheless up to the task.
“He’s not a real outspoken guy, but he leads by example,” Thurmond said. “He does the job of a leader by doing his part, by showing he’s willing to pay the price to win.”
A lot of that comes with his work ethic, which Thurmond said was relentless.
The coach stressed his ability to not just put in 100 percent at team practices, but to do the extra work on his own, at camps and in the offseason.
Przybysz credited Thurmond for helping to instill that willingness to go the extra mile.
“I’ve always been a pretty hard worker,” he said. “I try to challenge myself and not take shortcuts. Wrestling for (Thurmond), though, he’s like that himself. He doesn’t stand for shortcuts, and he preaches that hard work pays off in the end.
“I didn’t know how hard I could work until my sophomore year, when my coach showed me how hard I needed to. He’d wear me out every day, and I’d keep coming back for more.”
Thurmond said a lot of that ability also comes from maturity. Even as a younger wrestler, the coach was impressed with Przybysz’s willingness to learn from mistakes without being consumed by failure on the rare occasions that he’d drop a match.
“He’s so mature for his age,” Thurmond said. “He only had one loss this year, but he’s had some losses in the past. And he’s very mature in how he handles both.”
His one loss this year came at The Clash, a wrestling tournament in Minnesota which features the top individuals and teams from around the nation. It was a 3-2 decision in which Przybysz came up short on a near takedown at the end of the match that would have given him the win.
“It was close, but I couldn’t quite seal the deal,” he said. “But it was exciting to wrestle someone so tough. It kind of put my name on the map, nationally.”
Now, after a season in which he recorded the most pins and wins of his high school career, Przybysz will move on to the Naval Academy, where Thurmond expects more of the same success.
“He understands that if you’re going to get somewhere, you’ve got to work hard,” Thurmond said. “And that’s what we expect from him up there.”
And Przybysz knows that nothing comes easy. Even after winning titles in consecutive years, he never expected a third.
“It’s the pressure,” he said. “Who wants to be the guy that wins twice and then comes up short on the third? It’s no easier than the first time you win. You think it might be, but it’s not like that at all. But I’m happy I was able to end my time here on top.
“It’s pretty cool to know what I’ve been a part of here.”