- David Auguste, ESPN NFL
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You couldn't fault the wrestlers at Lake Stevens (Wash.) for getting excited about their expected 15 minutes of fame upon hearing MTV's cameras would follow the squad for a documentary being produced by former Viking grappler and current actor Chris Pratt.
The popular network has spawned a generation of young celebs who have achieved varying levels of fame after appearing in shows like "Jersey Shore," "Teen Mom" and, to a lesser extent, the football hit "Two-A-Days."
"We were messing around, saying, 'Dude, we're going to be famous,'" junior Eric Soler said.
Their reaction was in stark contrast to that of head coach Brent Barnes.
"I was leery. I didn't want it to be the next 'Jersey Shore,'" he said with a laugh. "We didn't want the kids to be exploited. They all wanted to be movie stars -- whatever that means to a 16-year-old."
Barnes' concerns were allayed when filmmaker Fredric Golding and Pratt outlined their vision for the project. Originally part of the "True Life" series on MTV, the documentary has expanded into the feature film "On the Mat," which debuted at New York's Tribeca Film Festival on Monday.
Film crews arrived at the school during preseason training in September, capturing the rigors the athletes underwent during the demanding season as well as the off-the-mat interactions between the close-knit squad. While the finished product might not stir up the tabloids or land on TMZ like many other MTV creations, it packs plenty of drama to captivate viewers, according to Soler.
"It's really emotional, and a lot of my friends said they cried," said Soler, one of the prominently featured grapplers in the film. "It's a different sport that not many people know or understand. They did a good job of portraying us. It shows all the work and how it paid off at the end."
The 2010-11 team entered the season in pursuit of the program's fourth title in five years despite fielding a young roster that wasn't viewed as a favorite in Class 4A. To further complicate matters, Soler, a sophomore state title contender, tore his ACL during a tourney in Pennsylvania. The team's championship pedigree shined bright as they defied the odds to stand at the top of the podium at state.
"We had a lot of healthy drama," said Barnes. "My worst nightmare was to have the kids breaking rules on camera. There is some drama and the kids make mistakes, but they came across as likeable."
Having cameramen in their homes and interviewing their parents required some adjustments, but the wrestlers eventually became close with the crew, and being filmed became second nature.
That was key for Golding, the director, who said it took nearly three weeks before the team really opened up.
"Even with kids, you get those standards sports responses," Golding said. "But once they realize that you're not going away…they start to let down their guard a little bit."
Soler is quick to note that he and his teammates have been approached for several autograph requests, but they don't think of themselves as celebrities -- or as any different than other prep grapplers around the country.
To Golding, that's the point. And it sits well with Barnes, too.
"I'm glad we don't have to do it again," the coach said. "I don't think anyone on this team has a future in Hollywood."
Additional reporting provided by Lucas O'Neill.
Lake Stevens wrestlers, coach react to Tribeca doc "On the Mat"