Lakeside High School's Tim Mitchem used to play football, but there's only so much a 125-pound athlete can do on the gridiron.
That's why Mitchem has turned his attention to wrestling.
"In football you have to be big if you want a shot at anything," he said. "The thing about wrestling is that any weight can do it."
Mitchem wrestles better than most.
"He's an intense kid, and he loves the sport. He's very good on his feet and with takedowns," Lakeside wrestling coach Randy Hill said. "He has the physical attributes to excel, but his main assets are his technical knowledge and just how hard he works."
Wrestling can be intimidating and brutal, but Mitchem isn't scared. Self-confidence is his ally.
"Wrestling is individual, it's about testing yourself," he said. "When I go into a match, I think about what I'm going to do and about what the coaches have told me."
As a sophomore last season, Mitchem pinned his opponent to win the Region 3-AAAA individual title in his weight class.
That success convinced him to specialize in one sport, and it wasn't football.
He dove into wrestling full-force, and attended the Arturo Holmes Camp last summer in Atlanta. Mitchem improved his mat skills to the point where he earned a spot on Team Georgia, and the experience has prepared him for his junior year with the Panthers.
"I went up to Atlanta and trained with one of the best coaches in the nation," Mitchem said. "I'm more focused now, because I know I've trained with the best."
Mitchem could be on his way to becoming the best himself.
This season he has placed first in the Black Cat Invitational and at the West Laurens Tournament, and notched second-, third- and fourth-place finishes at three other prestigious tournaments.
"He's had a real good year," Hill said. "His only losses have come to wrestlers that placed in the top four at state last year. We're looking for Tim to do well at region, and we're hoping this year he'll be a state placer. Next year we're shooting for a state championship."
Mitchem is aiming high - to win a state title and become an all-American, then earn a college scholarship to wrestle for a Division I program - and he plans to keep moving up the ladder one opponent at a time.
"I'm doing everything I need to do," he said. "I just have to work a little bit harder. You can never work hard enough."
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