FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School senior Wyatt Gill has wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the United States Marine Corps since he was 4 years old. Before he started high school about four years ago, he wanted to find a sport that would prepare him for the hardships of pursuing a military future.
It was then, during the summer before his freshman year, that Gill approached Wildcats head coach Matt Wadas about joining Warren County’s wrestling team. Gill had never wrestled before, he said earlier this week, but the sport just felt different, as if it could provide him the type of physical and mental challenges he was seeking.
Gill, who has held a spot in the Wildcats’ starting lineup for the last three years, now looks the part of a high school wrestler.
Physically the 182-pounder is imposing, the product of Gill’s dedication to the weight room that developed when he found his way to the wrestling mat. At weigh-ins, Gill’s physique draws stares from opponents, and Wadas said Brentsville head coach Rick Adams calls the Wildcat senior “Shute,” a reference to the antagonist in the wrestling movie “Vision Quest.”
Gill also sports a mohawk (which he has dyed red for the postseason), one of several tributes to the Spartan warriors that also include a tattoo and a logo on his headgear.
In short, Wadas said, Gill “feeds into the warrior mentality.”
“He doesn’t take it too far but he takes it to the idea of ‘If I’m gonna go out there I’m gonna fight my hardest in everything’ and man, I think it’s a great thing,” Wadas said on Tuesday. “I think he’s really embodied how to do it respectfully. He’s never out there to hurt somebody but when he’s on the mat, he’s gonna be fighting for that win, he’s gonna be fighting for our team. I mean I love that part of it.”
Entering Saturday’s Region 3B tournament at Spotsylvania, Gill is 38-3 this season with 26 pins and was one of six Warren County individual champions at last weekend’s Class 3 Northwestern District tournament who powered the Wildcats to the team title.
He’s played an integral role on a Warren County team that hasn’t lost a major tournament in the regular season in two years, and yet Gill’s go-to-war mentality on the wrestling mat is only part of his makeup.
Gill is a humble kid to his core, is soft-spoken and is strong in his religious faith.
“I don’t really ask God for a win and I don’t ask him for a loss,” Gill said. “All I ask is that he’s right there with me, giving me anything I need – strength, speed, agility, everything I need to wrestle. I’m thankful for every day that he gives me to wrestle.”
Gill has certainly done his own part to take advantage of the opportunity he was given.
During the offseason he tries to hit every wrestling tournament he can within a reasonable distance from home. He’s also developed a weight-lifting routine that allows him to bulk up during the months outside of the high school season while still maintaining the speed and agility he needs to be successful on the mat.
“I actually didn’t used to listen to Wadas about that,” Gill said with a laugh. “I would always go heavy and I always tried to gain muscle but I learned the hard way when your joints start aching and all that stuff, and your body starts getting sick. During the season I don’t go as hard. I like to say that I just keep the spear sharp.”
Gill cracked the Wildcats’ starting lineup as a sophomore 152-pounder two years ago, going 26-14. As a junior, he went 40-9 with 25 pins at 160 pounds, won a Bull Run District title, was second at the Conference 28 tournament, third in the Region 3A East tournament and made his first Virginia High School League Group 3A state tournament appearance.
He’s learned to be a more patient wrestler, he said, and knows now how to back off from being the constant aggressor during matches to put him in better position to go three periods with stiffer competition.
“I think he goes out there with good technique and he goes out physically and he puts kids in a situation where it’s gonna hurt,” Wadas said. “A lot of kids wilt when it comes to that stuff. We always say you’ve gotta have great technique but if there’s not physicality to it, people can fight back. Well he puts that idea of physical and technique together. He’s married that well.”
Though Warren County won the Region 3A East tournament title last season, Gill has yet to claim an individual regional championship, and he failed to place at last year’s state tournament. The prospect of earning the top spot in the 182-pound field in both the Region 3B and Class 3 state tournaments over the next week has weighed heavily on Gill’s mind of late.
“There’s been many nights already where I can’t sleep because I’m just wanting to do the best I can,” Gill said.
Gill, who pinned the defending Class 6 182-pound state champ, Lake Braddock’s Tyler Matheny, at the Warren County Invitational earlier this year, has already shown he’s got what it takes to make a legitimate run for a state title.
“There’s kids out there that he’s not gonna walk through anything,” said Wadas, adding that Gill will be tested at Saturday’s regional tournament, “so I think we’ve focused on not worrying about those kids. We’ve gotta worry about us. I think this week he’s focused on his technique, his shots, his sprawls, his offense and defense, and I think if he goes out there and sticks with that mindset he’s gonna be happy with whatever happens. But I think we wanna get him peaking at the right time and I think he is.”