Whether it’s talent on the mat or controversy off it, Barron Collier senior Ben Carter tops the list of Southwest Florida wrestlers.
The Cougars standout capped his roller coaster career this season with the 152-pound Class 2A state championship. The title re-established Carter’s place among the state’s elite grapplers after he won the title at 135 as a freshman and followed with a two-year state tournament hiatus.
“I don’t know, I kind of have to learn everything the hard way,” Carter said with a chuckle when asked to summarize his controversial career.
Carter’s impressive 35-3 senior campaign also included district and Mazda Invitational titles, as well as a third-place finish in the Tony Ippolito Invitational. In addition to the state title, he earned the honor of being The News-Press All-Area Wrestler of the Year.
“He just knows how to step out on the mat and win from wrestling so many matches as a kid,” Barron Collier coach Jeff Mustari said. “He’s probably the most coachable individual kid I’ve ever had as far as match-sense goes. You can show him something one time and from that point on he does it every time just like you showed him.”
While the finished product is worthy of praise, there have been plenty of bumps along the way.
On the mat since he was 4 years old, Carter said winning a title was all he ever dreamed about. So once he accomplished the feat at state as a freshman he simply quit.
Carter, however, returned for his junior season and seemed to be poised for a second state title run. But after going 17-1, Mustari kicked him off the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. While neither would discuss specifics of their heated argument, each insisted that the relationship emerged stronger.
“He does what every other high school kid does,” Mustari said. “He’s a screwball sometimes. But he’s a good kid.”
Despite all the controversy, no one questions Carter’s talent on the mat. Riverdale coach Kris Hayward, who led the Raiders to their second consecutive Class A team title this season, said Carter’s results speak for themselves.
“He has never lost a match in the Lakeland Civic Center. That’s pretty impressive,” Hayward said.
Don’t expect an encore, however, as Carter has no plans to continue wrestling. He plans to instead focus solely on academics in college.
“For me, I’ve accomplished what I want with wrestling,” Carter said. “You can’t just kind of do wrestling, you have to totally commit to it. On the college level I want to focus on academics.”