By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Justin Williams got a taste of what it was like at the Group AA state tournament. This year he wants more.
The Skyline senior finished fifth last year in the state tournament in Salem and that has helped fuel his fire this season.
He will wrestle in the Region II tournament today and Saturday at John Champe High School in Aldie.
"My goals are to try to win region and try to win states," Williams said.
Williams said he knew winning championships starts with the offseason, that's why he's really dedicated himself in the offseason over the last few years.
This past season was no exception as he traveled to tournaments all over the country. Williams said he wrestled in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina.
"Just going into the preseason tournaments and national tournaments is a great experience, too," Williams said. "You get better experience the more you wrestle. You gotta wrestle the best to be the best."
Williams did wrestle some of the best in the offseason, and he beat some of them as well. He defeated a Georgia state champion 1-0, and pinned a Colorado state champion.
Skyline coach Matt Keel said not a lot of upperweights travel like that in the offseason.
"He travels. He seeks that competition out," Keel said.
Williams not only wrestles in the offseason, but he said he lifts weights some. But more importantly, he works on a farm.
Williams said he works at White Oak Farm in Front Royal, and it helps him get stronger in the offseason and stay in shape.
"I do a lot of hands-on working out on the farm, making square bales and throwing them around a little bit," Williams said.
This season Keel said Williams also made a commitment to watching his diet and it helped him lose some weight, and be better prepared for the season.
"He got real thick, where he changed his diet," Keel said. "He's never done that before. He's changed a lot of things in his personal life to dedicate himself to this sport."
All of Williams' hard work has paid off this year, as he is 37-2 with 30 pins. He won the Northwestern District title last week.
Williams said he began wrestling in middle school and became hooked on the sport.
"It's fun, it's engaging. It's a challenge," Williams said. "You don't depend on everybody else for you to win, it's all on yourself."
His first two years he wrestled at 195 pounds, but didn't qualify for the state tournament.
Last year he moved to 220 pounds and made his trip to Salem a successful one.
"At the beginning I didn't think I was going to do well," Williams said of his state tournament experience. "My first match at states I messed up my knee a little bit, but other than that I came back and I ended up beating Brandon Thompson, of Brentsville, for fifth place. It was a great experience."
Keel said Williams represents the town of Front Royal well, from riding four-wheelers to how he wrestles.
"He doesn't back down," Keel said. "He's full throttle. He's wide open. He's always looking to get it done.
"He's progressed significantly in the five years that I've coached him. He came in and he's never really been scared of anybody."
Keel said this year, for the first time, Williams made a couple of goals for himself.
"One goal was to win the state championship," Keel said. "The second goal was to not give up any near falls. He hasn't given up any near falls."
Williams' title last week in the Northwestern District meet was his first, much like it was the first team title for the Hawks.
Skyline won the regular season title as well, and Williams said he's excited about the team's chances moving forward.
"I'm glad I can be a part of it," Williams said of the team's success. "[Being a senior] it motivates me a lot to get the team all together and it would be great to win regionals, too."
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org