You've heard of super-dedicated high school hockey and basketball players who never seem to stop playing their favorite sports. They call those guys "rink rats" and "gym rats."
Well, meet Chris London, the _ wrestling team's "mat rat."
London, the TMHS 170-pounder who only stops wrestling long enough to play football in the fall, has so far put together an unblemished, 25-0 record during his senior year, ranking him right up there with some of the top names to have worn the Redmen colors over the last three or four decades.
Only Tewksbury High legend Dave Shunamon, the two-time New England champion who was undefeated as both a junior and a senior in the late 1990s, has gone deeper into a season without losing a single match.
_ by pinning every one of his first eight opponents, and served notice that this season might be something special when he won the 170-pound championship at the Wilmington Sons of Italy Tournament in mid-December. A week later, London became the first Tewksbury High wrestler in 13 years to take first place in_
Last Saturday, London breezed through the competition in capturing the 170-pound championship at the Woburn Invitational Tournament, and on Wednesday he made it 25 straight wins without a loss when he out-pointed Brooks Academy's defending New England Prep School 160-pound champion Andrew Konovalcik, 9-2 in a dual meet.
"That's pretty impressive," said TMHS coach Brian Aylward of London's 25-0 record. "He's in pretty good company there. You're talking about some special guys. Even the last couple of all state champs we've had, they've been great wrestlers, but they've dropped a match or two along the way."
Shunamon, who went on to earn Division 1 All-America honors at Edinboro University, is the only TMHS wrestler in school history to go undefeated for an entire season. And he did it twice. Unthinkably, Shunamon was 53-0 as a senior, when he won his second consecutive New England championship in the heavyweight division.
"You can look across the entire state and (Shunamon) was as dominant a wrestler as you'll find," Aylward said. "He was one of only a handful of kids who have ever come out of Massachusetts and become a Division 1 All-American.
"So to compare Chris to him is kind of a hard thing to do to Chris," Aylward added. "But it's an honor to be in that kind of company."
Regardless of whether or not London can extend his undefeated streak into the state tournament this year, his career record at TMHS has already landed him in some select company. Records from his freshman year are sketchy, but it appears that London broke the 100-career win barrier within the last two weeks.
Only a dozen or so Tewksbury wrestlers have broken the century mark in their careers. Joel Altavesta was the last to do it in 2008, while Jim Tarpey and Mike Willy did it in 2007.
Considering the fact that London has had both his freshman and junior years shortened by injuries, the fact that he joined the 100-win club this winter is even more impressive.
"Not to take anything away from those other guys, but we've had a couple guys (win 100 matches) because they've been fortunate enough to wrestle four full seasons," Aylward said. "Chris, where he's missed a bunch, he would have been there, possibly coming into this season. He may have hit that mark early on and now he would be going for numbers up in the 120s and 130s. It's pretty impressive that he's done it the way he has."
London won only about a dozen matches as a freshman after injuring his knee during football season and missing much of his first varsity wrestling season. He went 39-13 as a sophomore, but was diagnosed with stress fractures in two vertebrae prior to the start of his junior season, and did not begin wrestling until early January of last year.
In spite of his late start, London rang up 27 wins in early 2011, and captured the Division 2 North Sectional championship at 160 pounds last February. He went on to take fourth at the Division 2 state championships in his weight class.
Inspired by his late season success, London redoubled his off-season efforts in 2011, putting in long hours of hard work training and competing with the Doughboy Wrestling Club in Lowell. At Doughboy, London trains under former Lowell High and Arizona State standout Mike Marshall, and the aforementioned Tewksbury High legend, Dave Shunamon.
Doughboy's training regimine features weight lifting, high intensity drilling, and competitive matches against other top high school wrestlers from around the Northeast region and across the country. Collegiate wrestlers from the Greater Lowell area often return to Doughboy to do their own workouts and help with the high schoolers, so there's plenty of top-notch competition for London. Doughboy offers year round training and competition, and London even trained there on Sundays this fall, after practicing and playing football six days a week as a two-way starter (tight end and defensive end) on Tewksbury High's Super Bowl football team.
"Going there (to Doughboy) has given me a lot of confidence," London said. "I've wrestled guys from all over the country and I've hung with them and beat a lot of them. So my mindset is that I shouldn't let anyone in Mass. beat me, at least not easily. I want to be perfect and work to get better in practice all the time. I don't want to get beat by anybody."
London's approach to the sport has been the key to his success, according to Aylward.
"I'd say his personality and his discipline are beyond most, if not all of guys that I've coached in either sport (football or wrestling)," Aylward said. "He's a student of the human body. From a very young age, 8th or 9th grade, he didn't just work out to get bigger, he also studies nutrition and everything. He's incredibly disciplined. He's done all the right things and he's a good student in school. He keeps himself regimented. He's probably got as much out of himself as any kid I've coached."
On Wednesday, Brooks' Konovalcik moved up a weight class to face London and perhaps gain some notoriety if he had ended the Tewksbury star's win streak. That didn't happen, but Aylward isn't surprised that teams outside of the Merrimack Valley Conference are taking note of London. In fact, London's name is getting mentioned in many conversations about likely state champions at 170 pounds, according to Aylward.
"He's getting noticed," Aylward said. "I think at this point based on what he's done this year, it's hard not to. His name has to come up. It's gonna be hard. As you get deeper into those tournaments the margin of error becomes smaller and smaller, and one mistake could blow a whole
tournament, you know. But he's a guy who, I'd say, if he qualifies for the all-state championships, he's got a chance for it."
Regardless of the outcome of his senior year, London will almost certainly continue his wrestling career in college. He has been accepted at and verbally committed to Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., where he plans to major in graphic design.
"We're just working out the details," London said. "It's a great school with a great program and a great campus. I'm really looking forward to it."
And after that, don't be surprised if London resurfaces in Tewksbury with, or course, a wrestling mat underneath him.
"I hope to come back and coach at some point," London said. "I definitely want to help out. I don't know how long B.A. (Aylward) is gonna keep coaching, so if he's not here, I'd definitely want to put the values he's taught me back into the program."