Carson wrestler Owen Craugh is about as easy for his opponents to figure out as an advanced technical calculus equation.
The 112-pounder is 36-4 on the season and is having his best year yet for the Senators, having won the Las Vegas Memorial Classic, the Carson Valley Lions Club Tournament, the Rosemont (Calif.) Tournament and the Albany (Calif.) Tournament. He also placed eighth in the prestigious Sierra Nevada Classic in December.
As Craugh has learned over the years, there is a reason for every move he performs on the mat. But when analyzing why Craugh has been so successful, the reasons are at the same time concrete as they are intangible.
"Owen's got one of the biggest hearts on the team," said Robbie Bozin, who competes in the 125- and 130-pound divisions for Carson. "He walks out there like no one can touch him. It's confidence-it's like he's the toughest kid in the world. He's always done that.
"He might not be the biggest or the strongest kid, but he gives it his all and usually comes out with the win."
Craugh's all-time high school record of 113-38 is all the more impressive when taking into account his freshman year, when he wrestled in the 103-pound division-the lightest category in the preps.
"On the first day of practice I came in at 88 pounds and dropped weight right away," said the 17-year-old Craugh, who in spite of hammering down protein shakes still weighed 83 pounds when he took third in zone and was a state qualifier as a freshman.
If someone hasn't boxed or wrestled, it's hard to articulate to them just how difficult it is competing with an equally skilled opponent who has a natural one-division weight advantage, much less a 20-pound advantage in the lightest class.
As with Bozin, who cuts down 15 pounds to wrestle at 125, wrestlers in the lighter divisions don't carry around a love handle to begin with and most lose weight to be stronger in their class.
"Owen doesn't think about weight difference," said first-year Carson coach Tyson Thivierge. "To him, everyone's equal. He believes he's tougher than the guy across from him. Even now he'll say, 'Let me wrestle 125. I'll wrestle 130.' He loves to compete."
Although he's finally wrestling in his own weight class, Craugh walks around at 109 after eating and seldom has to cut extra pounds. This is a bonus for a guy with a notorious sweet tooth.
"We were coming home from South Tahoe and the kid had a half-gallon of ice cream," Thivierge said of Craugh. "He says, 'You want some coach?' I said, 'Owen Craugh, I'm going to choke you out.' But as hard as he works, he can reward himself from time to time."
Even though he can eat more than most wrestlers-many of whom starve to make weight-it hasn't made it any easier for Craugh.
"They're a whole lot stronger at 112 pounds (than they were at 103)," Craugh says of his opponents. "When I was lighter, I tried to use my speed more and stay out from underneath them. I match up more now than before."
As tough as it was being an undersized freshman in a competitive program, Craugh said he had an even rougher time when he started wrestling in middle school.
"I got into wrestling because of my dad," Craugh said. "I played football and baseball. Bob McDonald (of the Carson Bulldogs wrestling team) talked to my dad. He thought I should try it (wrestling)."
Craugh's first impression?
"I didn't like it," he said. "I thought it sucked. The first few weeks I couldn't get the moves. My dad really wanted me to wrestle. In the eighth grade I tried to quit. He said, 'No. You started something, so you're not quitting.'"
Craugh's father, Owen Peter Craugh, is admittedly from the old school. A member of the Laborer's Union and a father who raised five children after Owen's mother left when he was 5, the elder Craugh isn't into tapping out when the going gets tough.
"I don't believe you quit anything you start," said Craugh's father, who said the reason his son wanted to leave the sport was because he lost to a girl in the USA wrestling program. "Plus, I have too much fun with it. I only have so much time with him. I don't want to miss out. Besides, if he's good, you don't let him quit."
In addition to his son's skill, heart and confidence, Craugh's father thinks a bit of something else rubbed off on him in his life's experience.
"There was no woman around for the soft side," said the elder Craugh, who added that he's had a girlfriend for the last eight years. "There was only the tough side. For many years, it was just me and him. There was nobody to contradict me. That's where his toughness comes from. There was nobody to baby him. You can't buy no sympathy here."
Owen Peter Craugh also downplays any part he may have played in his son's accomplishments.
"I can't take credit," he said, adding that he wished he could freeze time right now. "He's my son. I can't take credit from him. I think he's his own product. He's definitely made me a proud parent."
And Craugh is an improving product. Under Thivierge, he's beginning to mine into a deeper resource.
"He's had four different coaches-four different philosophies," said Thivierge, who's coached Craugh since November. "One thing he may have tapped into since I've been here is his aggression. I'd like to think I've shown him how to channel it into positive stuff, like offense and defense and getting off the bottom. And mentally, to believe in himself and his conditioning.
"He's coached not to get pulled out of his match. He trains for a 10-minute match in case there's double or triple overtime."
Bozin said Thivierge's philosophy of conditioning and aggression has benefited Craugh.
"It's one of Owen's best years," Bozin said. "The first thing is he bangs your head right away. He's very aggressive. Then he shrugs by and does the slide-by and brings (his opponent) to the ground. The 'Chicken Wing' is his bread and butter. He runs it over and pins his opponent because he has it (the 'Chicken Wing') so tight and deep."
Bozin also said Craugh is a great scrambler.
"If you get a shot on him, he's hard to take down," Bozin said. "If you get his leg, he goes over the top. He's flexible. He'll get you and reverse and just roll."
Carson 119-pounder Todd Banko wrestled at 112 last year and Craugh didn't have a chance to start there.
"He finally gets to be in the spot where nobody's ahead of him," Banko said. "I have not seen anyone who'll be able to stop him in the North. He has a good shot at state. At the Las Vegas Tournament, all of the Southern teams were there and (Craugh beat) a California kid in the finals.
"Owen's a pretty cerebral kid. He adapts to their style. He's quick and he's a smart wrestler. He's persistent. He wrestles in the off-season to get better."
Craugh also does his research to better help him prepare for his opponents.
"He's always on his computer," Bozin said. "He's got statistics on everybody in Nevada on his computer."
Craugh, who was a Northern 4A regional champion and a state qualifier as a sophomore, says his goal is to win state this year and knows who stands in his way.
"Jordan O'Neal, of Damonte Ranch. I lost to him, 9-4. We have the same style. He hit every move before I did. I like my chances (in a rematch). Garrett Hekhuis, of Douglas. He's pretty tough. I'm 4-0 against him. He's really fast with a good (single-leg takedown). Jake Evans, of Mojave, a sophomore. I haven't wrestled him. He took third at state as a freshman at 103. O'Neal beat Evans."
Craugh said he'd like to go on to wrestle in college and would travel anywhere if there were a scholarship waiting.
"The sad thing is that the lowest weight class (in college) is 125 pounds," Thivierge said. "But I think Owen can compete at 125. When I was wrestling, we had a kid who was 118 (in the 125-pound class) who was tougher than snot. I think he's capable of making a college program and competing very well."
After all, it wouldn't be the first time Craugh has faced larger opponents.
"He's always been smaller," his father said. "When he first started the kids would laugh when they found out they'd wrestle him. He'd tear them up. They were surprised. I think he gets pleasure out of that-to beat bigger guys who underestimate him."
That and the pleasure of having a very large helping of vanilla ice cream after dishing out his bread and butter-some "Chicken Wings"-and proving to his opponents that, if they want to beat Owen Joseph Craugh, they'd better pack a lunch.