Lou Rabito: Coatesville wrestler Mike Boykin aims for redemption at state tourney

Coatesville's Mike Boykin has learned technique to go with his great strength. The junior, undefeated at 220 pounds, is aiming for a medal in the state tourney.
Coatesville's Mike Boykin has learned technique to go with his great strength. The junior, undefeated at 220 pounds, is aiming for a medal in the state tourney. (LOU RABITO / Staff)
Posted: January 14, 2013

Mike Boykin overpowered opponents and won 22 matches as a freshman wrestler at Coatesville. It was only his third year in the sport, and he wasn't really wrestling.

"He probably would have had over 30 wins. I didn't even let him wrestle, like, 15 matches," said Bear Stephens, then an assistant coach and now co-coach of the Red Raiders. "He was trying to muscle them. He wasn't trying to use moves. And I told him, until you start using moves, we're not going to put you in the lineup."

So he started using moves. And last year, Boykin made it all the way to the second round of the PIAA state tournament.

Now, the junior 220-pounder has the strength - those thick arms and thick legs don't lie - the moves, and a reputation.

"Last year," Boykin said, "I was really like the underdog. I don't think anybody really knew who I was, because I didn't win anything big the year before.

"Now, I've got a target on my back. People want to find ways to beat me. It makes me want to keep working the way I've been working - hard - and learning more moves."

Through no fault of his own, however, he still isn't wrestling as much as he would like.

More than a month into a season that he hopes ends on the medal podium at the state tournament in Hershey, Boykin has won all eight of his matches, even though he has wrestled only four times. His four other victories came by forfeit, because the opposing team did not place a wrestler against him.

"It's frustrating," Boykin said.

"It's sad," Stephens said.

It's part of the price of success on the high school mat.

Wrestling is an individual sport at its core, but for much of the season, that core is wrapped by a team competition.

Coaches sometimes forfeit matches that they expect to lose by fall in hopes of gaining points in other matches and putting their team in better position to win. Or they might want to save one of their wrestlers from getting pinned. Or they might not have a wrestler at a particular weight class.

Stephens said Boykin could end up with 20 forfeit wins this season.

Once the postseason individual tournaments start, though, Boykin won't have to worry about forfeits. There, his concern will be redemption.

Boykin was 40-1 entering the 2012 Class AAA state tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey. Before his first match, he spotted his name on the scoreboard and suddenly felt nerves creeping into his stomach.

"I got the bubble guts, as we call it," he said. He withstood the nerves to win his first match, 9-6.

He led by 3-2 late in the third period of his quarterfinal match. But he gave up a takedown and dropped a 4-3 decision. He also lost his first consolation-bracket match and finished the season 41-3.

The quarterfinal loss stung. Boykin thought he stalled too much in the final period instead of remaining aggressive.

"I would think about it every day," he said. "Every day, I was thinking that should have been me on that podium. And now this year, I feel like that's going to be me on this podium."

Eight wrestlers in each class get medals at the podium, and Stephens thinks Boykin can be one of them.

The 5-foot-9 junior now has the big-stage experience to do it. Not only does he have last March's tournament, but he played nose tackle this fall for Coatesville's football team, which reached the state final. That caused him to miss the first three weeks of wrestling season.

And Boykin surely has the strength to do it. Last week, the Red Raiders tested their prowess on the bench press, and Boykin said he maxed out at 345 pounds.

Is he the strongest on the team?

"Yeah, by far," Boykin said. He paused, then added, "Strongest guy in the school."

Thanks to lessons learned as a freshman, the strongest guy in school has the wrestling moves, too. All he has to do is keep the bubble guts in check.

Contact Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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