Collin Palmer once thought karate was his future. Then one day during preschool he decided to demonstrate one of his moves on a teacher and went a little too far.
That was the end of that plan.
Palmer's parents immediately removed him from his karate class and signed him up for wrestling at the Southwest YMCA. He quickly took to the sport and trained with his father, Dwayne, and older brother, Lance, in the family basement.
Soon he was entering tournaments and upending nearly every wrestler sent his way. Even before reaching high school he had won several state and national championships and was widely regarded as one of the nation's most
With an extensive list of accomplishments in tow, Palmer's arrival at wrestling powerhouse St. Edward in 2005 was
highly anticipated. And he has more than lived up to the hype, winning three state titles in three years and solidifying his standing as one of the country's premier wrestlers from the Class of 2009. This winter, the Ohio State recruit will go for state title No. 4 while wrestling in the 140-pound class.
Palmer often comes out victorious because of his mixture of technical skills and phenomenal strength. But it's his tenacity that puts him in an elite class. The St. Edward coaching staff points to the scrambles he gets into in practice and in matches as evidence of that. Palmer will battle ferociously to prevent a takedown at all costs while also plotting a countermove to score a takedown of his own.
"That's tremendous attitude and refusal to give up a score," says St. Edward head coach Greg Urbas, who has guided the Eagles to 12 consecutive Division I team state titles. "It's an incredible example to the younger kids about how to never give up."
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"Losing a takedown in practice is just as [bad] as in a match," Palmer adds. "Since I was a kid, I've hated losing."
Palmer hasn't had to deal with that very often at St. Edward. He went 30-0 as a junior and owned a career record of 108-2 entering his senior campaign.
His lone defeat as a freshman came in the finals of the Walsh Ironman tournament, hosted by Walsh Jesuit, to Californian wrestler Nikko Triggas, who is now a sophomore at Ohio State.
Though disappointed by the loss, Palmer quickly shook it off and won the prestigious Beast of the East tournament in Delaware in dominant fashion the following week. He took his first two matches by pin in less than two minutes each and won his final three matches by a combined score of 25-1, including a 12-0 demolition of Blair Academy's (N.J.) Anthony Valles, who is now a freshman at Iowa State.
"You realized right then he was going to be special," says St. Edward assistant coach John Heffernan, who was a
two-time All-American at Iowa in the '80s.
Palmer finished his first high school season 40-1, with 24 of those victories coming by pin. He capped the year by
pinning Ryan Fields of Lakota West in the 112-pound state finals in just 3:08.
Fields was the state runner-up at 103 pounds in 2005, so for Palmer to pin him as a freshman was quite an
accomplishment. One he hasn't forgotten.
"It's the best feeling I've had yet," Palmer says. "You just have a feeling of complete domination. It's the best
He followed his fantastic freshman campaign by going 38-1 as a sophomore with 19 pins en route to a state crown at 125 pounds. Last year, he captured the state title at 135 pounds and won his first Walsh Ironman crown. Of his 30 victories, 16 came via pin.
Palmer has clearly been involved in numerous big-time matches. But he's able to stay even-keeled for one simple reason: He loves wrestling and has fun every time he steps onto the mat. But don't confuse that fun-loving attitude
"He's very, very determined," Urbas says. "He's very focused on the match. He knows what he wants to get done and gets after it. He has incredible knowledge of the sport, and his power is amazing. He's got total strength from head to toe."
It also helps that he grew up wrestling at home against his brother, Lance. A junior at Ohio State, Lance is a
two-time collegiate All-American who won four state titles at St. Edward.
And why should Palmer be afraid in the state finals when he grew up wrestling against bears? Yes, you read that correctly.
Palmer's father was a certified animal trainer who worked with bears, lions and wolves. Like his older brother, the younger Palmer often ventured into the cages with the bears to wrestle and play around. The bears were well trained and Palmer was never in any danger, but it was still a unique experience.
"When you step into a bear's cage, you have to be ready for anything," Palmer says. "But when you go in, it's more of a friendship. When I'm on the mat, [other wrestlers] are my enemy."
Dwayne Palmer is now a personal trainer who helps Collin by working out with him for an hour each day. Collin knows there will be a bull's-eye on his back at every tournament
this season, so he's aiming to be better than ever.
"I feel like I have to work a lot harder this year to make sure that I'm more prepared than anyone I step on the mat with," he says.
Just don't expect him to practice by pinning one of his teachers.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.