Already, Nick Cooper is one of the best wrestlers Bensalem has ever produced. The senior has one more chance to become the best ever.
To do it, he will have to survive three days of fierce competition and navigate a minefield full of other talented wrestlers in the 285-pound weight class at the PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships inside the Giant Center in Hershey to emerge a state champion. The tournament begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.
Bensalem has never had a state champ. Nor has there ever been an Owl in the state finals. Solomon Webb is believed to be the school's highest state finisher, grabbing fourth in 1993.
It's never wise to look too far ahead at the state tournament, and Cooper isn't. He is just focusing on his first match, which will be against Easton senior Jonathan Pineda, who is 33-6.
"I haven't even looked at the bracket," said Cooper. "My coach told me he feels good about the whole thing."
Cooper has 105 wins, which is the fourth most in school history. Tommy Stokes is atop Bensalem's career-wins list with 140. Stokes was never able to climb to the top step of the podium, but claimed medals for his sixth place finish as a sophomore then eighth as a senior in 2014.
Mike Pritchard won 118 matches from 2009-13, but never made it to states. And Anthony Uhrik is recognized by Bensalem as having 107 career wins, even though the District One website credits Uhrik with just 70 after he had 37 wins stripped because he was deemed to be ineligible when he attended Upper Perkiomen as a junior in 2006-07.
The incredible thing about Cooper's 105 wins is that 77 of them have come by fall.
"He's won 1-0 matches before, so he's definitely capable of that," said Bensalem coach Jake Thierjung. "He knows how to wrestle those matches. But he can pin guys. Now it's time to go do what you need to do to find a win, 1-0, 3-1, or deck the kid, whatever it is."
Cooper's run up to now would not have seemed probable had you seen him back in seventh grade when he weighed 132 pounds and began wrestling in the 145-pound weight class for his middle school. He kept growing, though, getting bigger and, especially, getting stronger. His strength, he says, comes from doing chores for his father.
"Manual labor is really important, to me more important than actual lifting in the gym," said Cooper. "My dad was always doing different stuff. At that time, I was just helping him move a couch or something. I picked up a grill one time, a huge, heavy grill. I was like 10, picked it up and put it on the back of a truck. He'd have me lift everything."
Now comes some serious lifting: the state tournament.
Cooper made it to states last year. He was so overwhelmed in his first visit inside the mammoth arena that he was pinned in 1:20, just the 10th time he has ever been pinned. He won by fall in his first consolation bout, but was ousted, 4-3, in the next round.
"With Nick, we're building it as we go," said Thierjung. "We keep putting pieces together, showing more and more stuff. That's why he's such a dark horse in this competition."