ALBANY - ALBANY
Eight seconds. That's all it took for senior Jamel Hudson of St. Anthony's to capture the imagination of the capacity crowd Saturday at the state wrestling tournament at Times Union Center.
He also grabbed them when he sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Saturday night's championship round.
Then he left the capacity crowd with the image of his arm being raised after he won the 132-pound state title with a thorough 8-1 win over Dylan Cohen of Williamsville East. The lightning-quick Hudson was too much for his opponent.
Hudson, a three-time Catholic high schools state champion, was making his third appearance at the New York championships. His first-round pin in eight seconds certainly was impressive. It was the fastest pin in state tournament history and he was named most outstanding wrestler in this meet.
But his rendition of the anthem, which took 1:24, may have been his biggest moment of the night. With no anthem singer available, Hudson volunteered. He was awesome.
"I enjoyed singing in front of all those wrestling fans," said Hudson, who has performed a one-man concert at St. Anthony's. "I got to display all my talents on the mat and the ability to sing. The night couldn't have been any better."
Hudson realized a dream Saturday night. He failed to place in his sophomore year and took fifth last season but couldn't be denied in his senior year.
"This has always been my goal," said Hudson (35-1). "I want to thank my coaches and teammates and everyone that believed in me. This is just a super feeling."
There was no mistaking Hudson's desire to win a New York title. Only three wrestlers from Long Island's Catholic schools had ever won the NYSPHSAA tournament: Robert Murphy of Chaminade in 1986, Lucas Magnani of St. Anthony's in 2000 and Grant Greene of St. Anthony's in 2008. When you consider the CHSAA has sent 449 qualifiers in 31 years, the odds were not in Hudson's favor.
But the kid who relishes center stage in all forms was ready to capture the hearts of wrestling fans from all over the state. And there was no fear.
After his eight-second pin in the first round, he beat returning state place-winner Eric Lewandowski of Lancaster by technical fall, 17-2, in the quarterfinals.
"He put on a clinic," St. Anthony's coach Tony Walters said. "He can do that. Opponents don't realize how quick he is until he's all over them. He's unbelievably fast and very strong."
Up next for Hudson in Saturday morning's semifinal round was Nick Kelley of Shenendehowa, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the state. Hudson had all night to think about the undefeated Kelley (50-0).
Not surprisingly, Hudson came into the arena early to get loose Saturday morning. There was no sign of nerves or apprehension. That's why he is better than everyone else.
There was competition on eight mats, but it seemed as if all eyes were on Mat No. 6, where Kelley and Hudson got after it.
"It may be the most exciting match of the tournament," said NYSPHSAA executive director Nina Van Erk, who enjoyed the action-packed bout and applauded both wrestlers. "These guys are terrific."
Hudson took the match to Kelley, gaining a first-period takedown and moving all over the mat. The imposing Kelley worked for an escape in the first period and another to open the second period before scoring a takedown for a 4-2 lead.
After two wild third-period flurries, Hudson used his third takedown for an 8-5 lead with 44 seconds left before closing out Kelley, 8-7. The action had ignited the fans and drew their praise at the conclusion. "It was a step along the way, a big one," Hudson said, laughing.
He was enjoying himself.