Three years ago, Merritt Island wrestling coach Graham Smith was teaching new wrestler Caden Norris an underhook, when suddenly the new guy took the experienced coach to the mat.
“That was when I realized this little short kid was going to be pretty good,” Smith said Saturday. Now a senior, Norris had just won the 220-pound weight class at the Cape Coast Conference meet in the Bayside High gym. Smith calls him the workhorse of the team.
“Every off-season, he wrestles more matches than anybody in my room,” Smith said. “That’s why he’s able to be so good.”
Thursday, Norris, the rest of the Mustangs and five other Brevard County wrestling teams will compete in the District 13-2A tournament at Viera.
Norris has put in the work because of what he called “a fantastic decision” he made to pursue the sport. He didn’t much like youth football, and though he tried basketball before wrestling, he dropped it because it interfered with his newest pursuit of excellence. Norris came to wrestling because of his dad’s background in jiu jitsu.
The senior remembers his early days in the sport a bit differently than Smith.
“I wasn’t like a savant to begin with. I knew if I could put in the work, I would get there,” he said. “Coach Smith was so great to me. Wrestling made me feel good about myself. It made me feel healthy.”
Wrestling is significant in Norris’ life, but there is more to him. He’s been playing the viola since the fifth grade. He’s now first chair in the school’s chamber orchestra.
And his grades are somewhere north of a 4.0. Norris has been taking advanced placement classes since the 10th grade. He’s now in A.P. classes for economics, calculus and literature, though he said his favorite subject is English.
He’s hoping to be admitted to the University of North Carolina and is also interested in UCF. His current plans are to student psychiatry.
Norris is 42-4 on the mat this season, with no losses to in-county opponents. He was chosen as the top upper-weight wrestler at Palm Bay’s Ships and Duals tournament earlier this season.
As a 195-pounder last year, he qualified for the state tournament and did what few first-timers do. He won a match, good enough to place among the top 12 in the state at his weight in 2A.
Unsatisfied, he set out to do even more off-season work, in hopes that he can return to Kissimmee as a better competitor. It’s one of the things that has drawn him to the sport.
“I like the whole self-improvement aspect,” he said, later adding, “I feel like that’s important, to learn that your hard work will bear fruit.”
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