Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

GWINNETT -- Zach Thompson's father called his son "super-human." Lee County wrestling coach Tom Matheny called Thompson "tenacious."

So how did Zach feel after winning the GHSA Class AAAA State Championship on Saturday at 119 pounds?

"Oh man," Thompson began, "I'm tired."

Thompson improbably went 4-0 between Thursday and Saturday at the state tournament, needing a triple overtime victory in Round 1, a stunning upset of the No. 1 seed in the semis and the ability to fight off not one, but two injuries in the finals to give the Trojans just their second state champ in school history.

"I just feel shocked right now," Thompson said Saturday evening as he drove home with his parents, Jim and Tammy, who got a front row seat on the mat in the state finals to watch their son go from an underdog to state champ in a matter of three days. "I can't believe I did this. It's been one of my dreams since I started wrestling in the eighth grade, and I never thought it would come true. But it did."

Conley Pines was Lee County's only other state wrestling champ in 2006 at 112 pounds -- the same weight class Thompson finished third in at state a year ago. But this season, he moved up to 119 to both fill a void on the team and because he thought it was the division that gave him his best chance to succeed.

And boy, was he right -- although it didn't happen without, as any wrestler will tell you, many trials and tribulations along the way.

"Man, there is so much work that goes into this sport -- the training, the cutting weight, the working out, the not eating -- I just feel (Saturday) was the day it finally paid off," Thompson said. "And because I was the only one (of seven wrestlers from Lee County who qualified for state) to place on our team, I had all my teammates up in the stands cheering me on.

"It was pretty exciting and it just made all the hard work worth it."

Jim Thompson wouldn't disagree.

Zach's father said Saturday he, himself, didn't wrestle in high school and wasn't sure about the sport when his son first tried out, but eventually saw how much potential Zach had at an early age, and ultimately pushed and supported him year after year.

And after the win, Jim wasn't sure who was more excited.

"I can finally breathe," he laughed. "I couldn't breathe during the entire final match and neither could his mother. I thought she was going to have a stroke during it because it was just so intense."

Jim then added: "I expected Zach to place in the Top 3, I really did, but he truly exceeded mine and everyone's expectations. It was phenomenal to watch and I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am right now. The kid is super-human."

Super-human, indeed.

Zach needed triple overtime Thursday against his opponent from Flowery Branch in his state opener -- which he eventually won, 3-2 -- just to advance to the quarterfinals. Zach called it his "toughest match, by far" of the entire state tournament.

"In the last 15 seconds, I just had to hold him down to win," Zach recalled. "I got out of there and advanced -- barely."

Then Friday, Zach won two matches -- beating his opponent from Rome, 6-0, in the quarterfinals, then stomping the No. 1 seed from Ola, 7-2, in the semis to advance to the finals. And he did it all after twisting his left ankle in the semis, then twisting his right ankle in the finals, where he beat his final opponent from Glynn Academy.

"Zach is just tenacious. He's a blue-collar, come-out-and-rough-'em-up-gritty young man," Matheny said. "I absolutely believed Zach could do this and he controlled his matches from start to finish."

Jim Thompson took that observation one step further.

"What people don't understand about Zach is how tough this kid is -- and he'll never tell you that himself because he's modest. And while he knows how to pin an opponent, he also knows how to not get pinned," Jim said. "He's only been pinned three times in his entire career since he was a freshman, and he wasn't pinned once this season."

Zach finished his 2010-11 season with a staggering 50-3 record, and won the area championship at 119 to qualify for state. He started wrestling in the eighth grade, then after his freshman season at Lee County, missed most of his sophomore season with a broken arm he suffered during a match. He came back as a junior to get close to winning state at 112 before finishing third, then capped his senior season with a history making performance.

And while Zach said Saturday he had likely wrestled the final match of his career -- he has no plans to pursue it in college -- what a way to go out, eh?

"It was a big surprise, definitely, because I was one of the underdogs," he said. "No one expected me to do this."



Lee County's other star senior Connor Cloud, who placed sixth last season at 171, fell one spot shy of that at state this year, finishing seventh.

But Cloud ends his Trojans career as one of the most decorated to ever take the mat in Leesburg as he set the school record for victories with 164, breaking the old mark right before state of 161.