PALMETTO - Adam Tanner was once your typical Florida teenager.
In other words, he played football. The progression was natural: First came the games at the Police Athletic League. Then came two seasons on the junior varsity squad. Then came his junior season, when the Palmetto resident cracked the varsity lineup and even started a few games.
Then something crazy happened - Tanner discovered wrestling. He drifted away from Harllee Stadium and toward the school's wrestling room, located a few paces from the gymnasium.
He's been there ever since.
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Tanner decided not to play football this past fall, partly because he wanted to get a job. But the bigger reason was that he wanted to focus on wrestling, a sport he knew very little about before it crossed the Manatee River and landed at Palmetto last winter.
"It's a really physical sport, . . . and it's an individual thing, as well as a team thing," Tanner said. "You have to rely on yourself to do well, along with the team."
Tanner still isn't sure what made him slide into a singlet in the first place. When casual observers think wrestling, they think of the human cartoons that populate the WWE, or the image of one big guy throwing another big guy around a circle.
Tanner's knowledge was just as limited, but that didn't stop him from giving wrestling a whirl. A few months after tryouts, he was a district runner-up and a Class 1A-Region 3 qualifier.
He was hooked.
"Last year was the first year for everybody. We started from scratch," Palmetto wrestling coach Bryan Wilkes said. "He learned everything from the very beginning. . . . He's doing really well."
Tanner's decision to eschew the gridiron for grappling this season wasn't completely seamless. After adding bulk in preparation for the football season, Tanner found himself having to cut weight for wrestling.
He had to sharpen his diet and run a few miles a night. A heavyweight at the beginning of the season, Tanner now wrestles at 215. He's 23-1 - 18-1 at 215 - entering tonight's county tournament at Palmetto.
The Tigers hosted their own dual tournament last weekend, and against Clearwater Central Catholic, Tanner wrestled a typical Tanner match: He fell behind 5-2 before scoring a reversal and recording a pin. All of this happened inside of the bout's first two minutes.
"The first period, he doesn't do real well. And then all of a sudden, boom - he has the guy on his back," Wilkes said. "He's very smart. This year, I can probably count on one hand the number of mistakes he's made."
Tanner's brain may be his strongest asset of all. Armed with a 4.2 grade-point average, he's applying to the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in hopes of becoming an engineer. If he doesn't get in, Tanner said he may attend the University of South Florida for a year before transferring to the University of Florida.
What Tanner does know is he wants to keep wrestling. He's already been in contact with the wrestling coach at the Coast Guard Academy, and hopes to pursue the sport wherever he decides to study.
"If they have a wrestling program of any kind, I definitely want to participate in that," he said. "I love it."