By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Nic Campbell has held lofty goals for himself since wrestling first began clicking for him in eighth grade.
Campbell wants to become the first Strasburg wrestler to win four individual state wrestling titles, a feat that now appears that much more realistic since Campbell won his third Virginia High School League state championship in Salem on Feb. 22.
The hard work in the weight room and on the wrestling mat has continued to pay off for Campbell over the years, and the junior has set an example to younger Strasburg wrestlers by demonstrating what it takes to be successful. Campbell's teammates get to see that process first-hand a lot throughout the high school wrestling season and during offseason workouts and camps, but Campbell wants to make sure that lesson reaches as many ears as possible.
That's why Campbell preached that message to his younger brother, Alec, and some of his sixth-grade classmates as they prepared for the Mason-Dixon Junior Wrestling League championships on March 8-9.
Campbell said he met with the group of youth wrestlers a couple times a week in the four weeks leading up the championship tournament to help give them some extra practice, and in that time he stressed the importance of effort.
"I'm one step closer to my goal. Knowing that all your hard work can actually pay off, it shows. That's what I tell the little kids that I've been teaching the last couple weeks. I'm just like, 'It will all pay off in the end,'" Campbell said.
Campbell understands the impact that learning such a lesson at a young age can have on aspiring wrestlers, as he started his own wrestling career in similar fashion. Campbell's first taste of the sport came at a youth program headed by former Strasburg wrestler Troy Dean -- a three-time state champ and father of current Rams junior Hunter Dean -- when Campbell was in middle school. He wants future Rams to have that same benefit.
"The smallest things, where you start from, can turn into big things, just like how it turned out for me," Campbell said.
In the years since Campbell first stepped foot on the mat, he has built up quite an impressive resume for Strasburg. The junior has lost just once in 143 career high school matches, and he won Group A state championships at 113 and 120 pounds during his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively, in the old VHSL classification format.
This past season, Campbell, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013-14 Wrestler of the Year, had a sparkling 56-0 record and capped his junior season with a state championship at 126 pounds in the Group 2A finals against Grundy's Austin Hurley. Campbell beat Hurley by a 5-2 decision.
Campbell, who hasn't lost a high school match in two seasons, also won individual titles at the Bull Run District, Conference 35 and 2A East Region tournaments while helping Strasburg to team championships in all three events.
Strasburg first-year coach Mike Wood said Campbell -- one of two Rams, including Hunter Dean, to win state titles this season -- is a perfect storm of confidence and skill that allows him to be successful on the mat. Campbell expects to win each match he competes in, and he has the strength and technical ability to back that up.
"In wrestling you've got to be relatively strong, relatively quick, technically good and mentally strong," Wood said. "His thing that makes him stick out is he's got all those ingredients, but he's got a -- I could call it a mean streak, but legally mean. Some people say he's too physical and my comment to them is maybe they ought to go play curling or badminton or something, because there's no way you can be too physical, as long as you keep it legal."
That physicality and aggressiveness on the mat didn't come to Campbell until the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but it's a style that he has used to great success over the last two years.
"I just like to go out there and be aggressive, a lot of contact. Just trying to break them," Campbell said. "You have to do that. If you show that, people don't want to wrestle you."
But while that physicality certainly helps him win matches, Campbell said a lot the time his success comes down to his mental approach. Campbell refuses to believe he is anything but the best wrestler in each match, and he said consistent success requires that competitors have that "light switch that as soon as you step on the mat, it's all business."
"He's got that controlled arrogance, which is good," Wood said. "And I tell all my guys, I don't want to see anybody out there acting like a conceited or unsportsmanlike idiot, it's just good to be arrogant. It's good to go out there and think and know you're going to win and have that confidence. Confidence is dangerous. If you can do that and not be scared, not doubt yourself, you'll be successful. He's got that."
With his third state title under his belt, Campbell can now turn his attention to preparing for a chance at state championship number four, although his offseason work will be put on hold for a while as he plans to have surgery in April to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, an injury he suffered two years ago.
When he does return, Campbell said he will focus on bumping up in weight again to 132 pounds as he aims to help Strasburg win its first team state championship since the 1999-2000 season.
"I wanted our team to get a state championship [this year], too, because that was our goal all year, but runner-up is not that bad," Campbell said. "It was really good, just bringing in a new coach and having him start a new tradition for us. Hopefully we can get first next year."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD