Conventional wisdom says that if you find no success in an activity you probably should find something else to do.
As a freshman, Raymond Smith was 0-14 as a varsity wrestler for North Salem High School.
That’s not trying a sport and finding some potential; that’s getting beat up.
No one would have faulted him if he decided that wrestling might not be his sport and wanted to try something different.
“I agree 100 percent, but I worked hard convincing him to stay and stick with it because he worked hard. He was just 20 pounds undersized,” North Salem coach Andy Pickett said.
Smith found the motivation to continue, won a few matches as a sophomore, was a regional runner-up as a junior and as a senior this season will be a contender for a state championship.
What kept him going was the encouragement from his coaches and parents.
“They told me if I stick with one thing, just stick with it and don’t quit,” Smith said. “I knew if I kept with it, I would get the hang of it.”
Smith enters this season ranked No. 4 in Class 6A among 106-pound wrestlers.
“I didn’t expect it from him,” said senior teammate Justin Waldrop.
Smith had primarily been a basketball player in his youth, but when he was in seventh grade, a friend of his wrestled so he went to a few practices.
He was significantly undersized even then — he was 50 pounds and wrestled against 70-pounders — and he didn’t do especially well, but he kept showing up “because I thought the practices were fun.”
Smith practiced a few times as an eighth-grader but continued to play basketball and thought he could have a future in that sport.
As a freshman at North Salem, though, he discovered that wasn’t the case.
“He tried out for the basketball team as a freshman and got cut from the team, so I convinced him to come out for wrestling,” Pickett said.
“He was undersized — like 84 pounds wrestling at 106 — and he got murdered, didn’t win a match all freshman year.”
Smith continued to work after his freshman season, but his biggest improvement came after his sophomore year in which he won a few matches and came up one match short of placing at the regional tournament.
He worked with Pickett on freestyle wrestling after the season and won a tournament and earned a spot on a team from Oregon that traveled to Russia.
Since then, he skyrocketed.
As a junior, he placed second in the region and won one match at the state meet. He won the freestyle state championship in the spring and traveled to Fargo, N.D., to wrestle in the national championships.
“I saw last year, in order to make our team better, I needed to put him in a leadership role,” Pickett said. “Mentoring him on how to be a good coach, how to help others and be a positive leader.
“He’s done everything I’ve asked there by mentoring, not just Johnny (Guevara), but other kids also.”
Smith has developed into a tough wrestler.
Not only is he a rare senior in a weight class — he’s currently wrestling at 113 pounds, but will be down to 106 for districts and state — usually filled with freshmen and sophomores, but his speed and endurance will win him a lot of matches.
And he has improved on the technical aspects of wrestling.
“Obviously he’s a pretty gifted athlete, which not all wrestlers are, but he’s got a double (leg takedown) that’s pretty reminiscent of Andy Pickett’s when he was in high school,” Dallas coach Tony Olliff said.
“It’s a here I come, I’m not going to fake, I’m not going to hide, I’m going to let you know.”
Since his junior year, Smith has had a confidence seen in few wrestlers, and that could lead him to a state championship.
“Nobody out there is a superhero,” Smith said. “Everybody’s beatable. I realized I’m doing the same thing they’re doing. I’m running, I’m lifting, I’m eating right so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be one of the top guys.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler