PEMBROKE — Lumberton wrestler Justin Kelly is determined to improve this summer, even if it means getting up at 6 a.m.
That’s what the rising junior has been doing this week alongside teammate Edward Brock at the intensive wrestling camp hosted by the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“It’s been hard,” said Kelly, who finished 17-24 as a sophomore. “I’m not used to working out that early.”
He is the younger brother of former Lumberton wrestler and current UNCP wrestler Chris Kelly.
Under the tutelage of UNCP head coach Othello “O.T.” Johnson and some of his wrestlers, Brock and Kelly have been participating in a variety of workouts and live demonstrations over the course of the four-day camp that began on Sunday.
Brock, a 195-pound competitor who posted a record of 40-7 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCHSAA state championships last season, is using the camp as an opportunity to fine-tune his approach on the mat.
“I got a chance to perfect my old moves,” Brock said. “I do a lot of ankle kicks and outside singles, so I perfected some of those.”
Kelly said he was focused on “get better with certain things I usually messed up on during the regular season.”
Johnson, who has been overseeing the intensive camp as well as a youth camp and technique camp this week, said he doesn’t expect the campers to be in ideal shape when they show up for the first day. Because of that, he’s been pushing the campers to exhibit mental toughness throughout the sessions.
“We’re trying to make sure they understand that what they’re doing right now will pay dividends during the school year when they’re training and competing,” Johnson said. “Find a way to fight through it and finish the drill or finish the lift for the intensive campers.
“We’re paying attention to the guys that are of recruiting age and trying to see how they figure out a way to get the job done.”
The intensive camp is the most competitive of the three and features experienced high school wrestlers from around the region. That camp provides Johnson and his staff with an opportunity to identify potential collegiate athletes.
That process starts with seeing who shows perseverance.
“If they can do that, we feel confident that we can definitely develop the wrestling piece over time,” Johnson said.
It wasn’t just college prospects in attendance at the English E. Jones Center on Monday. Children from 5 to 11 years old took to the mats in the morning for the youth camp, where they learned and practiced basic wrestling techniques.
Many of those campers had participated in previous years as well. Johnson cited a strong instructor-to-camper ratio as one of the factors that keep the participants coming back.
“There’s a few kids here from the Robeson County and Cumberland County area that we’ve seen on the wrestling circuit,” Johnson said. “It’s really good to watch them develop and grow into the wrestlers they are now.
“We’re excited that these kids are continuing to pursue the sport and gaining a life skill that they can carry on with them. Being a part of an individual sport that has a team aspect is going to carry them a long way when they go to high school and college. Hopefully they’ll carry those skills along with them to have success in the classroom and in their future careers.”
Reach Brandon Tester at 901-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.