Northgate sophomore wrestler remains unbeaten

By CHRIS GOLTERMANN Stenciled on a small strip of wall in big black letters in the center of the Northgate High wrestling room just below the ceiling, five individual state champions are listed by year. Among them are titles from former Viking state champions in the late Justin Jordan and Brett Dettmering. There's also two from Paul Sanford in 2005 and again in 2007. All are among the best wrestlers head coach Adrian Anderson's esteemed program has produced in the last decade on the mat.
But the one most recently stenciled to the bottom of that list of champions might turn out to be the best one yet. Viking sophomore Tyler Askey takes a perfect 94-0 varsity record into to the Class AAAA state tournament at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth where he will be a favorite to win this year's 152-pound state title. The GHSA state tournaments will feature a trio of Coweta wrestlers led by Askey as a top seed following his Class AAAA West Sectional title last weekend. In the Class AAAAA tournament, both East Coweta 125-pound sophomore Drew Higgins and Newnan 160-pound junior David Finlay survived an equally grueling sectional, finishing among the top-eight in sixth and eighth place. Entering unbeaten, Askey stands in the same position he was as a freshman before polishing off an perfect freshman season with a 140-pound Class AAAA championship in 2010 after winning all 50 of his matches. Chasing excellence has become as much a habit for the nationally-ranked youth wrestler, as it is now an art. Under "Interests" on his Facebook page, Askey lists a single word -- "Perfection" "I know there are other things that are important. Church and school come first in my family," he said. "But as far as other activities, wrestling is up there." In nearly 100 varsity matches so far, including last year's 50 wins, no one has managed to get the best of him. Last weekend, Askey pinned all four sectional opponents, two in the first period, another in the second and his last against Alcovy standout Boimah Karmo coming in the third during the sectional finals while improving to 44-0. He opens this year's Class AAAA tournament at 152 pounds against Alexander's Marcus Hart, needing four straight wins to pull off another state championship. But even through county, area and sectional championships while successful at five different weight classes so far in his career, Askey has tried not to let the perfect mark get the best of him. "I try to go into every match thinking that I can win," said Askey prior to Thursday morning's weigh-in at the Gwinnett Center. "I know I have to wrestle as perfect as possible because at any time I know someone could beat me. But I try not to think about (the perfect record) so much." Prior to high school, he had already amassed a wall of medals and trophies from youth tournaments at home as a Cadet National double All-American. Varsity wrestling, however, has added a team element that Askey has enjoyed just as much. "I've always loved wrestling because you're competing against someone your own size. There's no boundaries, just you against your opponent," he said. "But I like having the team aspect in high school." Unlike last year, when Askey was joined by eventual Viking state finalist, Chris Schenk, the sophomore was the only Northgate wrestler to make it through an arduous Area 3-AAAA tournament with a deep lineup of 13 wrestling schools. At 171 pounds, senior Brian Fleenor finished ninth at sectionals, winning two matches, but coming up a victory short of advancing. "We have a lot of really good wrestlers here this year," Askey said. "It's just too bad that we had such a tough region. I want to represent them the best I can." But for all the success Askey's had on the mat in two seasons, he's not immune to losing -- even multiple times in a tournament. His sophomore varsity season began only after dropping three straight decisions in the Super32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C., in October. As the only sophomore among a large field on top contenders from nine other states, Askey lost two of the matches by less than three points. It was as much an inspiration, though, heading into the 2010-11 varsity campaign. "It was really hard for me to come that close," he said. "But it was a boost in some ways for me. It showed me that I could compete with kids who were highly regarded." Askey hasn't been challenged nearly as much during the varsity season, with just more than a handful of what he called "quality matches." He admitted, though, that Union Grove standout Hunter Gamble was high among the list of top opponents he's faced so far, with the pair of Area 3-AAAA rivals facing off in this year's 160-pound finals of the Fayette County Christmas Classic. During his freshman season, Askey was seemed to show opponents a bit of leeway at times, winning more than a share by decisions instead of quick pins in a "cut and release" method. To a casual fan, it could have looked like the Northgate star was toying with opponents like a cat batting a mouse. But there was a reason behind the method. "This year I've tried to focus on my top work," said Askey. "Last year, I wanted to really work on takedowns and that's why I did a lot of the cut and release stuff." The state tournament might not be the biggest stage Askey has been on. He admitted being a bit nervous during a trip to the Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D., where feature matches were contended on elevated and spotlighted mats. "It can get a little nerve-racking at times, especially in big arenas. This one can be like that some times," he said of the state final atmosphere. "I try my best to keep it contained the best I can." One of the most respected wrestling coaches in the state with over 300 career wins, Anderson has admitted that at times, he's been as much relegated a spectator when Askey goes to work on an opponent. "There are times when I'm just there watching him and there's really not a whole lot I can say to help him out," said the Northgate head coach earlier this year. "I just have a front row seat." Still, the Northgate coach is among a handful of people that have given Askey the most inspiration. They also include club-level coach Arturo Holmes, who runs The Wrestling Center in Marietta and has consistently sent athletes to top college programs in a mid-tier wrestling state for prospects around the country. "Both of my coaches have been a big help to me," said Askey, who only is able to make one or two trips on the side to Marietta during the wrestling season. "Varsity doesn't end until six-thirty, and coach runs some pretty intense practices." Parents Dan and Missy exposed Tyler to multiple sports growing up including soccer and baseball. Wrestling was the one that stuck Perfection, however, may run in the family genes. Arguably Askey's biggest inspiration is his dad, Dan, a former college football player at Michigan State who also wrestled in high school while growing up in a hotbed for talent in Pennsylvania. "My dad had been a huge inspiration to me," said Tyler of his father. "He's a bit of a perfectionist too. I probably get some of that from him. He was probably a better football player than I ever will be a wrestler." Staying unbeaten, meanwhile, is just one potential goal among equally bigger challenges. Another state championship brings Askey halfway to joining a list of only 23 four-time champions in Georgia high school wrestling since 1961. Two more objectives are high on his list. "I'd like to finish with top national ranking," he said of his varsity goals, "and to wrestle Division I in college." Right now, Tyler Askey couldn't be on a more perfect path.

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