Lakeside High School senior Justin Otis
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Lakeside High School senior Justin Otis has a habit that is very hazardous to other people's health.
When Otis competes for the Lakeside wrestling team, he bends his opponents until they look like a pretzel.
"He doesn't hurt people - he just dominates them," Lakeside coach Randy Hill said. "He does whatever he wants at will. If he wants to take you down, he'll take you down."
Otis insists that inflicting pain isn't his goal, but if it takes a little bloodshed to pin down a win, so be it.
"I think the key to wrestling is to be aggressive, yet patient, not necessarily going out there trying to hurt your opponent," Otis said. "All I'm doing out there is trying to hit my moves as hard and as quick as I can. Some moves are going to hurt. That's just part of the sport."
For Otis, success is also part of the sport. As a sophomore at Lugoff-Elgin High School, he won a South Carolina state wrestling title in the 145-pound weight class.
After moving to Columbia County, he joined the Lakeside squad and posted a 50-3 record his junior year. Along the way, Otis won the region championship in the 152-pound class, and took third at the Class AAAA state meet, the highest finish ever recorded by a Panther.
Otis is competing in the 160-pound class this season, and he's expecting big things - his goal is to repeat at region, then become Lakeside's first state high school wrestling champion.
"I think he can do it," Hill says. "He works hard, and he's been around some of the top wrestlers in the United States."
Otis travels to Atlanta every weekend to hone his skills with a personal coach, and he also competes year-round with Team Georgia.
There is more to his makeup, though. Last summer, Otis traveled to Central America, where he wrestled with the Elite Christian Mission Team.
As good as Otis has become, he still remains humble, thanks to faith.
"Before the match, my dad and I always pray together, and every time I step on the mat I kneel and pray," he says. "Afterward, I thank God, because I believe He helps me."
Whether Otis is giving the pounding or taking it, that positive perspective never changes.
"An occasional loss is not always a bad thing," he said. "It's hard, but you've got to always remember to use that for motivation. It can get you ready for the big tournaments that really count."
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