Wrestling is a sport of specialization. It has many participants, but few avid followers and fans. It's rare that an athlete simply seeks out the sport; more often it's passed down from parents or grandparents or mentors who wrestled in their past.
That's not what happened with North Forsyth senior Bradley Thomas.
His father didn't know much of anything about wrestling, but one day Thomas and his brother Brice were wrangling around in the back yard when their Dad showed them an ad in the newspaper looking for young wrestlers. It was suggested. Brice said no. Bradley said yes.
“I thought it was going to be like WWE or something. Elbows flying and stuff like that. Obviously, I was naive,” Thomas laughed.
So, as a fifth grader, Thomas attended his first wrestling practice. The room was hot. The activities unfamiliar. He said there was “way more running” than he thought there would be. Practice was long, exhausting and the coaches were stern.
He got back in the car that night.
“I told my Dad I knew it was going to be hard. That was a rough first practice,” Thomas said. “From there, I fell in love with it.”
“I like the idea of working hard. I always have. I can't really explain it. I think I get it from my family. My Dad is a hard worker, my mother is too. All of my siblings are athletes.”
He wasn't even in middle school, but Thomas decided by himself that he wanted to commit to wrestling—not because it was particularly fun, but because he was driven by the culture and the work involved. He wanted structure, competition and discipline. There he found it.
There has been, however, a flipside to Thomas' athletic endeavors. He will crack a grin and admit that football is his No. 1 passion. He loves the game, played since the third grade and started three positions on the varsity team this season. His last snap ever with a helmet on came last Friday at home against Milton.
Now the fun is over, and Thomas is ready to get back to work.
“Our wrestling program here—you can tell when you just walk through the doors and see a practice. Our coaches go all-in, our wrestlers do. It's about as professional as it gets,” Thomas said. “If you look at us and then go somewhere else you can just see the difference.”
Thomas' commitment to hard work at North has paid off. Last year in the 145-weight class he placed fifth at the traditional state championship, while the Raiders tied for their highest finish ever — second in Class 6A.
It was a monumental accomplishment for Thomas, who spent the entirety of his junior season recovering from an untimely illness.
“I played a football game on a Friday, against Alpharetta. The next day I felt a little sick, then I woke up on Sunday with just this insane pain in my side,” Thomas said. “It felt like someone was stabbing me.”
A quick Google search (not recommended) helped Thomas self-diagnose himself (also not recommended) with appendicitis. He was correct. Within the hour he was in a hospital. Within nine hours he was in and out of surgery.
It was right before wrestling season. Because of recovery from the abdominal incision, Thomas had to wait, then work to regain the strength in his core. The first few matches back were rough and took a toll on Thomas.
“I had a tough time just sitting and watching everyone else at practice,” Thomas said. “I got down on myself. We had a great team and I wanted to contribute. I had to sit down with some coaches and do some soul searching.”
Thomas stuck to his routine, re-gained his strength and began to excel toward the end of the season. The first glimpse of success was at the state duals, where he defeated his opponent from nationally-ranked Archer in the 145-weight class. Then he got to the traditional state tournament and placed higher than he could have imagined.
“Just being there—it was electric. It was emotional,” Thomas said. “I had just gotten beat on the mat pretty bad by a guy, but still did well, then was celebrating with the team. I think that was a big moment for us last year and sets us up for even more this season.”
Now Thomas is back at full strength and the senior leader of a team packed full of talented juniors. The team is considered one of the best in Georgia again heading into the season. Thomas is excited to be a part of the group one more time.
“It's really (the juniors’) team,” Thomas said. “Just, there's so many of them. But me and Connor Carroll see ourselves as leaders. We like to keep everyone focused, but the younger guys can joke around and stuff. We like to joke around too. We're a fun group and get along well together.”