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Orlando Scales stepped onto the mat with enough swagger to fill a Lil Wayne two-disc album.
|Orlando Scales went 48-0 last season in winning the state title in the 215-weight class.|
It was one of his first practices as a freshman at Elder (Cincinnati), and Scales expected to overpower his opponent with the same brute strength that had allowed him to dominate all through his youth career. But as the practice session progressed, the confident freshman quickly learned power alone didn't translate at the high school level.
His opponent was then-senior Sean Jameson, a technically sound competitor who had qualified for state the previous season. Scales was no match for Jameson that day -- or in any of their subsequent battles during the season.
"Sean was great," Scales says. "He beat me every time, but I took it as a learning experience."
Scales reinvented himself throughout his freshman year by augmenting his strength with a slew of new tactics, the beginning of a transformation that has seen him emerge as one of the nation's top grapplers.
The 6-foot-1 senior went 48-0 last year, pinning a school-record 35 opponents. He capped the season with a state crown at 215 pounds to earn Cincinnati Enquirer Division I Wrestler of the Year honors. He entered this season ranked No. 1 nationally in the 215-pound weight class by W.I.N. magazine.
Scales' immense success on the mat stems from his unwillingness to accept defeat. He replicates the same meticulous approach he learned from Jameson in their year of practice together. And any mistakes Scales makes in a match are quickly reversed.
"I have never seen anyone stop him," Elder coach Dick McCoy says. "He's a 9-to-5 guy. He gives you everything he's got."
Hailing from inner-city Cincinnati, Scales developed toughness while avoiding the temptations of the street, using athletics to maintain a positive lifestyle. His father, Orlando Sr., enrolled him at Elder to both reinforce that outlook and offer him a different perspective on life.
"I wanted him to learn to be with all people," Orlando Sr. says. "We live in an all-black community. He runs around here and the hardcore kids say, 'He is going to make something of himself.' They respect him."
Scales caught the attention of McCoy while wrestling for the Elder Kids Club program in middle school. He achieved success by utilizing his 200-pound frame and simply overpowering the opposition. As a freshman, his ascension was briefly sidetracked when he was forced to sit behind Jameson. But Scales refused to sulk in defeat. Instead, he identified his weaknesses and made the necessary adjustments.
"We tried to develop a bit more offense," assistant coach Rob Oberjohann says. "We threw in a double- or single-leg sweep. That way, offensively, he wasn't one-dimensional."
He became a master of leg sweeps and a virtuoso of the underhook -- a go-to move Scales often uses to neutralize an opponent before a takedown attempt. He also maintained his relationship with Jameson, who now competes at M.I.T., and he sought advice from other former Elder wrestlers, including Anthony Stegeman, who wrestled at Air Force.
The turning point in Scales' career came early in his sophomore season, when it was clear he could hold his own thanks to his new-and-improved technique. Matched up against an older competitor in Ross Quehl of Moeller, Scales squeaked out a close decision, beginning his meteoric rise through the GCL, through the state and onto the national radar.
TV show: "Family Guy"
Movie: "The Dark Knight"
Musical artist: Lil Wayne
Pregame song: "3 Peat" by Lil Wayne
Scales went 35-9 with 25 pins as a sophomore and finished third in his first appearance at state.
"My goal was if I did lose a match, it would be close," Scales says. "I thought I had a good chance of winning state."
His dream came to fruition a year later when he defeated Adam Cogar of Barberton by a 3-2 decision in the state final. After the announcement was made, Scales leaped into the arms of Oberjohann to accept congratulations from his proud coach. Maintaining a well-established Elder tradition, the team, along with a caravan of fans, piled into Price Hill Chili in western Cincinnati to celebrate the Panthers' fourth-place team finish, as well as the individual titles of Scales and teammate Tommy Pretty.
"It was my biggest achievement," says Scales, who was also a starting defensive tackle on Elder's state finalist football team this past fall. "It was a great experience for me and my school. My goal is to hopefully repeat."
Following his junior season, Scales went on to win the Disney Duals championship in Orlando, Fla. He also placed second in the Greco-Roman division and third in the freestyle division at Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., earning All-American status in both events.
Thanks to success like that, it's no surprise he has received interest from numerous Division I college programs, with Big Ten schools like Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana offering scholarships.
Despite his aggressive nature on the mat, however, Scales has a lighter side usually seen only by his teammates and coaches. Prior to the start of a practice last season, McCoy gathered the team to begin stretches and warm-ups. Scales walked over to Oberjohann and told his coach to watch closely.
He then proceeded to swing his arms, cross his legs, dive forward with his chest out and bounce three times from side to side.
Flabbergasted, Oberjohann quickly got the attention of McCoy, who came over and questioned what Scales was doing. Scales flashed a smile as he finished performing the unmistakable Soulja Boy dance. "This is the way I am going to warm up from now on, coach," Scales said.
"He's not too bad at that for a big guy," McCoy says. "He is just a fun kid to be around."
Unless you happen to find yourself on the mat as his opponent. Then, the lighthearted Soulja Boy impersonator disappears, replaced by an intimidating force with the swagger of someone who knows he's the best.
David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.