His record this season borders on the incredible.
Maryville High School senior Blake Ridenour enters the Region 2 championships this weekend at Gibbs the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 152 pounds. He’s 35-0, with only four of his matches this season going the full three periods.
Thirty-one wins were by pin, forfeit or technical fall.
Only once this season has an opposing wrestler even scored.
It took a ton of hard work over the years for Ridenour to reach that level. It took talent. It took sacrifice.
“During the season, I don’t see my friends much,” he said. “I don’t have a life.”
In its place there’s a dream, one Ridenour has pursued the last four years with a focus that has never deviated.
“I can be known for making history,” he said. “That makes it worth it.”
Blount County hasn’t produced a state wrestling champion in more than 40 years. Everett’s Ron “Yogi” Wilson (1961) and Doug Overly (1964) were the last. Several others have come close, most recently former Rebel Landon Hall, who twice reached the championship match in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, respectively.
Ridenour wants badly to end the drought, Maryville coach Mark Humphrey said.
“His whole attitude has been, ‘I know I’m good enough to do it. I’ve got to do everything right, work as hard as I can and wrestle good competition,’” Humphrey said. “He’s trying to leave no stone unturned.”
Hall’s remarkable run was made all the more impressive with the former Rebel doubling at linebacker for the school’s championship football team. Doing so entailed Hall getting to the wrestling mats each year with the season well underway. He would reach peak fitness each year with little time to spare.
Ridenour walked the same path his freshman year at Maryville. After seeing Hall just miss in an overtime loss in the ’06 final, Ridenour decided he was taking no chances. He walked away from football and bet it all on wrestling.
“I think he realized (wrestling) was his sport,” Humphrey said. “I think he really wanted to be a state champion.”
The decision was paying huge dividends by Ridenour’s junior season a year ago. He entered last year’s state meet the No. 1 seed at 140 pounds. Everything looked set. Then, just days before the tournament, he got the flu. In a weakened state, Ridenour still came away with the bronze.
Last year’s near miss only fanned the flames.
“It’s a big motivator for him,” Rebel senior Matt Shock said.
To avoid a similar setback this year, Ridenour got a flu shot prior to the season. He makes sure his vitamin levels are always topped off.
“I’m eating those vitamin C tablets like crazy,” he said.
Along with being more guarded about his health, Ridenour stepped up his conditioning to unheard of levels this season. Along with wrestling practice and meets, there are two nights a week spent at a local health club. Twice weekly, he’ll go home afterward and spar with a practice partner.
Ridenour has sought out the best wrestlers in his weight class — from around the region — to keep his skills sharp, a routine that more than once has meant a drive to the Chattanooga area to get in a workout. When you’re 35-0 and only a handful of opponents have pushed you to the second period, finding practice partners locally can be a real challenge.
The lengths Ridenour will go to in pursuit of a state championship are fueled by a genuine love of his sport. He was introduced to wrestling by his father, Scott, at 4. By middle school, little else mattered.
“I moved here in the eighth grade,” Shock said. “You could tell even then it’s his life. That’s all he does. He’s pretty motivated.”
He didn’t win much during those early years, Ridenour said. Many of his matches were on the ultra-competitive AAU circuit, with many of his opponents often much further along.
“You start getting your butt kicked,” he said, “but when you start getting your butt kicked by good people, you start to get better.”
That kind of determination tends to get noticed by teammates and opponents alike.
Brian Gossett is in his first season at Alcoa after helping launch the successful program at Greenback High School. Less than five years old, the Cherokees have already produced a state individual champion and a team regional title.
Gossett said he’s hopeful of similar successes at comparatively young Alcoa, a program where all 10 wrestlers are either freshman or sophomore.
“(Former Tornado coach) Jim Blackford has laid a good foundation,” Gossett said, “and I’m just trying to build on that.”
Wrestlers with drive Ridenour displays help lesson the learning curve, he said.
“I just tell them if you want to know how to prepare for a match, both mentally and physically, Blake’s what it looks like,” Gossett said. “The look in his eyes says, ‘What you can do to me has no effect on what I’m about to do to you.’ I tell my guys all the time that’s what you want to get to.”
Ridenour isn’t looking past this weekend’s state qualifier. There’s history to be made there as well.
“He’s got a chance to do something nobody has ever done,” Humphrey said. “This region has been around for 20 years, and I don’t believe we’ve ever had a four-time champion.”
It’s unlikely Region 2 wrestling has ever seen anything quite like Ridenour, either.