Commentary

Born Ready

Updated: May 5, 2009, 8:44 AM ET
By Matt Remsberg | ESPNRISE.com

Erik Spjut had always been a little more mature and level-headed than his peers, so his father gave it to him straight.

"You don't have to decide now, but you have a lot of talent in wrestling, so there's going to come a time when you have to make a decision," Swen Spjut told his son. "If this is something you want to do for fun, that's perfectly fine. If you want to be better than most people, you're going to have to work very hard. If you want to be the best, you can't let anyone outwork you."

Eight years old at the time, Erik listened to his father and immediately began pondering the possibilities. He had an answer the next day.

"I want to be the best," Erik told his father. "What do I need to do?" In reality, Spjut (pronounced sp-yoot) was already on the path to greatness. Now a senior at The Woodlands, Spjut began marching toward state supremacy and All-American honors as soon as he learned to walk.

A sergeant with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Swen Spjut has always made fitness a priority, and he recalls that as a toddler Erik would watch with fascination as he departed on daily jogs. So as soon as Erik got comfortable on his feet, he wanted to run.

At 2 years old, Erik began doing laps around the block with his father by his side. "If I didn't pretend to run well enough," Swen says, "he'd get upset and yell at me, 'You're walking!'" Two years later, Erik ran next to his father and finished his first competitive 5k, even giving a group of lollygagging high school cross country runners a run for their money.

"He's always been a workout fanatic," Swen says. "It's just something he was born with. He is so committed and driven."

So when Erik proclaimed himself ready to outwork every other wrestler in the nation, his father never doubted he would follow through. At Swen's suggestion, Erik started his training regimen with a few sets of push-ups and sit-ups each morning. He was cranking out 500 of each per day by age 12, at which point he made the transition into the weight room.

Today, the 5-foot-5, 130-pounder can bench press more than twice his weight thanks to a level of dedication that has risen with every passing year. He gets up at 5 a.m. each day before school to work out at a local YMCA, typically in complete solitude unless he can convince a couple teammates to meet up with him.

Add in a lifting session during his wrestling period at school, a two-hour practice after school and a final training session each night, and it's clear Spjut is doing everything possible to live up to his pledge of allowing no one to outwork him.

"The bigger the moment, the more Erik pushes himself," The Woodlands coach Joaquin Bautista says. "It's the kind of relentless attitude you see at the Olympic level."

But it wasn't always that way for Spjut on the mat.

In middle school, his athleticism was unmatched but his results didn't reflect that. As he progressed deeper into tournaments, he became too conservative and wrestled not to lose rather than attack his opponents.

Working with Bautista changed everything. Spjut gained the ability to amp things up late in tournaments rather than play it safe. He won state titles as a sophomore and junior and posted a combined record of 163-2 in his first three years of high school. He also earned All-American honors as a sophomore and junior by finishing third both years at the National High School Coaches Association Wrestling Championships in Virginia Beach, Va.

But the transformation wasn't complete until this past December when he knocked off a pair of national champions (Arizona's Luke Goettl in the semifinals and New Mexico's Louis Trujillo in the finals) to win the 130-pound division at the Reno Tournament of Champions.

"That was a huge moment for me," Spjut says. "I really hadn't won a tournament of that magnitude before. Those two matches were so close, and it felt so good to pull out the wins and have all the hard work pay off like that."

The victory moved Spjut ever closer to the goal he set for himself as an 8-year-old, to be the best. After opening his senior season ranked No. 7 in his weight class by W.I.N. magazine, Spjut was No. 3 as of press time.

Whether or not he reaches the top spot this season, Spjut will carry his desire to be the best with him to college next year at Virginia Tech. And even though he's still months away from setting foot in Blacksburg, Va., Spjut already knows what he'd like to do after he earns his degree: coach youth wrestling.

He has already been spending a couple evenings per week for the last few years working with kids at the Spring Klein Wrestling Club, where his father is the head coach.

"People always tell me he's got a real natural way of explaining things to the kids, and you can see it just by watching him," Spjut's father says. "The kids are in awe of him because of what he's done, but he has a way of putting them at ease and putting the focus back on them."

And if one of those kids wants to know what it takes to be the best, Erik Spjut is the perfect person to ask.

Matt Remsberg is a senior editor for ESPNHS.
E-mail him here.