Lakewood Ranch's Blake Riley-Hawkins fights off knee injury to qualify for state wrestling meet

adell@bradenton.comFebruary 15, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Blake Riley-Hawkins wants to leave a legacy at this weekend's state wrestling tournament.

What the Lakewood Ranch senior might be unaware of is that he has already secured a legacy in the minds of most people who know him.

It's a miracle of sorts that Riley-Hawkins even qualified for the state wrestling meet for a school-record third time.

Riley-Hawkins was unable to wrestle for the final eight weeks leading up to district tournament. He suffered what to most would be a debilitating injury when the bursa sac in his right knee burst.

Then he developed MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a serious strain of bacteria that can be life-threatening.

There was a 10-day stretch when Riley-Hawkins had an IV of antibiotics in his arm.

But the soon-to-be 18-year-old did not allow that to shut down his training. He worked out with the IV in his arm to try and stay in the best possible shape, hoping he would somehow qualify for the postseason.

"Blake is a warrior," Lakewood Ranch head wrestling coach Pat Ancil said. "He was doing things like jumping rope and a lot of isometrics with the IV in his arm.

I've been in wrestling for 50 years and have never seen anything like it. It's all about grit and determination. Unless the doctor shut him down, he was going to find a way to wrestle."

Riley-Hawkins began his recovery using a walker. He graduated to a leg immobilizer, then a leg brace and ultimately crutches.

He was cleared to wrestle a week before districts.

Things have not been easy. When Riley-Hawkins took the mat for his first district tournament match, he didn't know what to expect. He was rusty, and his endurance was way off.

"It was so stressful. My family and supporters were scared. I wasn't thinking about anything but winning," Riley-Hawkins said.

Competing in the 132-pound class, Riley-Hawkins pinned his opponent in that first match. He won the second match 7-1 and was winning 5-3 in the third when his rust caught up with him, and he was pinned. "I was disappointed, but happy to get to regions," Riley-Hawkins said.

Riley-Hawkins won his first two matches at regions and finished fourth to grab the final qualifying spot in the Class 2A tournament, which begins Friday at the Lakeland Center.

"I felt absolutely amazing. The competition was really tough, and I was able to pull it off and stay alive," Riley-Hawkins said. "I am thankful for all my supporters and the doctors, and I want to single out coach Ancil. He has been great."

Hawkins will bring a 121-19 career record to states, including 18-4 this season. He is the fourth Lakewood Ranch wrestler to win more than 100 matches. Evan Dipsiner is first with 142 victories. Blake's brother, Kyle, now wrestling for Ohio State, is second with 129. John Walters is the other.

Riley-Hawkins said he is about 65 percent of his potential now. He will need every ounce of it today when he takes on undefeated Jamarius Jackson, the defending 132-pound state champ from Orange Park Ridgeview High.

On paper, Riley-Hawkins doesn't have a chance. But Ancil said Jackson will be dealing with a special person in a special situation, and Riley-Hawkins isn't going to concede anything.

"Blake is laser-focused," Ancil said. "He realizes the challenge in front of him and has very methodically developed a game plan. He is very confident in his technique, and you couldn't find a greater kid."

Along with his rust, Kyle is still dealing with a lot of pain. But he remains determined.

"When I touch my knee down to take a shot, it hurts. It's not fully healed, but the doctors cleared me, Blake said. "When I am done with states, I will go back to the doctors and make sure I heal right for next season. I will be wrestling at Ohio State with my brother. Now I am pumped up for states. I want to leave a legacy."

To everyone who knows his situation, Blake already has his legacy.

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