MALVERN >> Michael Beard would've had every excuse in the book to let complacency creep into his mind for his senior season at Malvern Prep.
His first three seasons built a resume that would've landed him a spot on any Division 1 college program he wanted.
With two prep national titles under his belt, Beard (195 pounds) kept his blinders on and stayed the course, winning his third championship as a senior and completing his second straight undefeated season to become the Daily Local News' Wrestler of the Year for the third time.
"I realized everyone was trying to beat me and that motivated me to work harder," Beard said. "I have a big future coming ahead and I wanted to keep working towards my ultimate goal of winning NCAAs."
Beard is committed to wrestle for Penn State, winners of the last three NCAA championships and seven of the last eight, but will gray shirt next year. That means he won't be competing or practicing with the squad, but can work out with the club team and is expected to compete for a spot in the lineup the following winter.
On his way to Penn State, Beard put together arguably the greatest high school career in Chester County history. He hasn't lost since early in his sophomore season, unofficially winning 141 straight bouts and finishing with 266 career victories.
"Mike is a very humble kid and kind of standoffish about his success, but he's had one of the greatest careers, at least in Pennsylvania, in my mind, based on the tournaments he goes to and the competition he's faced." Malvern coach Nate Lautar said. "I hope other kids follow in his footsteps."
Beard's teammates and coaches will tell you that he's the nicest kid and funny and willing to help anyone. It was clear to see on a Tuesday in early April, while his teammates played wall ball, Beard grappled with a handful of youth kids prior to freestyle club practice.
But when he steps on the line, or when complacency seeps in for just a second, Beard has been able to find that next level that competitors could rarely match.
"Sometimes I'd take him down in practice or catch him off guard and I could feel the intensity go up and he'd flip the switch," teammate Nick Florschutz said. "He'd raise the bar 100 percent and it was fun to try to match his competitiveness. His intensity triples. He skips double and just triples it and goes a lot harder."
From the time he started wrestling at the age of five in the Daniel Boone school district, Beard fell in love with the sport. Lautar calls him a "mat rat" and said he's been that way since he started going to the Malvern club a decade ago.
After committing to wrestle for Northwestern a couple years ago, Beard changed his mind and chose to go to the most competitive wrestling room in the nation. Having to wait at least a year to compete will not be easy for a kid obsessed with competing, but his goal of becoming an NCAA champion pushed him to Happy Valley.
"I went to NCAAs last year and saw all of them having fun and competing at their best," Beard said. "It's a great coaching staff and they have fun with their athletes. It's not just going into the room every day and hating life, they play games and it's a great atmosphere. I fit in best at Penn State and don't see myself going anywhere else."
The lineup will look much different next year for Malvern without Captain Beardo in it, but his impact on the Friars' program will last. Before Beard got there, Malvern was a mix of studs and program kids, typically making them fun at tournaments but less exciting in dual meets.
Beard became that big, national name that undoubtedly attracted others to enroll, and mixed with Matt and Nick Lattanze and Chris Hisey and others who Lautar credits for building the program, Malvern is now one of the top prep programs in the country.
"I accomplished a lot in high school, but that's not the ultimate goal," Bear said. "When I win a national title, then I'll be satisfied, I guess. It's a great feeling to see how far I've come, though."
"I'll miss my friends," he added. "We always have fun in the wrestling room and my teammates have good taste in music. I'll especially miss Nate (Lautar). He's been everything to me and he's the reason I'm where I'm at today."