During the 2011-12 traditional postseason, Dalton High sophomore Sidney Wheeler became one of the hottest wrestlers in the state, making a surprising sweep through the Area 7-3A and Class 3A West sectional tournaments before claiming the 182-pound state title by beating West Laurens senior Demetrius Green.
But for one of Wheeler’s classmates on the team, the celebration was somewhat bittersweet. Dylan Carlile was happy for his teammate but nagged by the thought of what might have been for himself.
That’s because Carlile had been enjoying a strong postseason run as well, finishing third at the Area 7-3A traditional tournament. Because Northwest Georgia produces a good share of state medalists each season, the Catamounts underclassman’s goal of a state title was not unreasonable.
But the week after his third-place finish at area, Carlile suffered a devastating injury in the first round of the sectional tournament — a broken collarbone that happened when he was slammed to the mat — that brought his year to a painful close. Instead of being a participant at the state tournament, the 120-pounder was reduced to spectator and cheerleader for his teammates, Wheeler and senior Reinaldo Torres, who also earned a medal by finishing fifth at 145 pounds.
Carlile finished his sophomore season — which also included a third-place finish at the Murray Invitational — with a 36-19 record, and he was selected for The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Wrestling Team after earning honorable mention for the team as a freshman.
Torres also made the team, while Wheeler was honored as Wrestler of the Year.
“Seeing Reinaldo and Sidney do so well at state, it was upsetting, but it was a positive thing, too, because I think it did make me hungrier,” Carlile said. “When (the injury) happened, I cried. It wasn’t the pain that I felt in my shoulder, though. It was knowing how close I was and how well I was doing at the end of the season.”
Carlile will soon have his next chance at making a run for the state title, with the journey starting with the Area 7-4A traditional tournament Feb. 1-2 at Gilmer High. The traditional postseason is what Carlile has spent the past year thinking about, training for and working toward, and it has shown, because his season has been most impressive.
The junior’s 52-4 mark this season includes 43 pins, and he recorded 23 pins in a stretch of 25 straight victories. This past weekend, he was second at the Murray Invitational, losing the title match 3-1 to Ringgold’s Sam Sheppard, a state finalist last year. Carlile lost twice at the prestigious Bradley Invitational, with one of those losses coming to the defending Alabama state champion.
“All of his match losses have been what you would consider quality losses,” Dalton coach Michael Keefe said. “He is getting close. He has trained so hard and the training alone that he has put in puts him at the top. If he ... wrestles his kind of match, there is no one at state who is going to beat him.”
It’s been a long road back to this point, though. Long and sometimes frustrating.
“I spent the better part of a month on the couch, holding my arm just so, and I am not a guy who likes to sit around,” Carlile said. “I feel like because I came out on the short end last year, I am flying pretty much under the radar this year. I want people to know that I am a force to be reckoned with and be someone they are talking about going into next year.”
Keefe said Carlile has done everything he can to give himself another opportunity, including doing extra workouts outside of the team’s practices.
“He was upset he didn’t get to wrestle at state, but since then he has been the hardest worker on the team,” Keefe said. “... He does everything he can to get better.”
Carlile believes his training has him at his physical peak, but he knows he must now overcome a mental hurdle. In the back of his mind, he recognizes that one takedown by an opponent could put him back on the sidelines. Once you have been injured on the mat, it hangs around with you, Carlile said.
“Mentally, you have to block that freak accident out, but it isn’t easy to do,” Carlile said. “I have gotten some fear in my head, but you have to look past that and attack before the other person attacks you.”
Keefe said the mental aspect will be the difference in who claims the area and state titles.
“There are always three or four at the top as far as ability is concerned, but the one who is prepared off the mat is the one who usually wins,” Keefe said. “He is one of the best in the state, and if he believes that, he will win a title. But it is mental.”
Half the battle is that Carlile has recognized his fear and is ready to confront it.
“There is not a lot of definitive answers you can give for getting over it,” he said. “You just do. I have thought about that a lot, and I think that I have gotten that fear out of my head. You just have to keep fighting on.
“It is do or die right now, and if you think too much, it can be a problem. It is a fine line. Two of the guys I lost to, I lost to them in the past, and I wrestled very conservatively with them. I needed to get rid of that fear.”