By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
SALEM -- On Thursday night, Strasburg's Lance Ford stood in front of the mirror in his hotel room.
His teammates were getting settled into their temporary home, making sure to hydrate and rest up for their matches the next day.
The freshman was staring into the mirror, bouncing up and down, as if he was just seconds from taking the mat.
Slap! His hand hit his thigh. Slap! Another strike to his body, a familiar warm-up technique wrestlers use, probably to get them ready for the pain they're about to endure.
His teammate Colin Barnes looked on, struggling to believe Ford was ready to go so soon. But that's just how Ford is before a match. Any match. He's focused. No, forget focused. He's obsessed. He's obsessed with his technique, his opponent and his results.
"Oh my God. To me, he's like an animal that's caged," Barnes said. "And we only let him out when it's time to get on a mat."
That animal let loose Friday, pinning his first two opponents and advancing to today's state championship semifinals on Saturday.
A first glance at Ford doesn't exactly send people running the other direction. After all, at just 103 pounds, Ford is the tiniest guy on his squad, and speaks with a calm and relaxed tone.
But when he laces up his wrestling shoes and straps on his head gear, something inside switches. That cage door is opened, and Ford becomes quick and relentless toward his opponent, only stopping when he's won the match.
His first match on Friday took less than 60 seconds. Up against Franklin's Xavier Freeman, Ford pinned his opponent in 44 seconds, his 37th win of the season.
His second match lasted a little longer, as Junior Espinoza was able to last past the first minute. He couldn't make it out of the first period, however, as Ford decided enough was enough and sent his opponent to the consolation bracket.
"Every single match, I think about it," Ford said. "I think it was last night when I was going to bed, I was just thinking, 'Dominate, dominate, dominate.'"
Two pins. Both in less than two minutes. But what's even scarier than the talent level of Ford now is thinking of how talented he'll be in three years. At 14, Ford is just a freshman on the Rams, experiencing, like he's done all season, things for the first time.
"I've never seen somebody so intense as him," Barnes said. "I consider him a freshman with junior talent. Freshman experience, but with that freshman experience, he's rising up."
This is his first trip to the state tournament. It's his first run-in with the lights and the crowds. Ford said afterwards he was feeling the pressure before his matches on Friday, and admitted just because he's gotten the first-round jitters out of his system, the nerves will still be there today as he'll try to bring home the state championship for Strasburg at 103 pounds.
Despite his continued nerves, however, there's a good chance Ford was back in front of his hotel mirror on Friday night, unable to keep still, ready to strap on his wrestling gear, ready to let the animal out of the cage again.
"Well, we'll either wrestle six minutes or we won't," Ford said. "Whatever happens, happens. He's a good wrestler and I'm a good wrestler, so we'll see. I'm taking it one match at a time and I'm ready for tomorrow."