Plainedge's Dan Spurgeon entered February's state wrestling tournament with a bum knee. His coach, Rob Shaver, said he had his concerns, but he kept them quiet. There is no reason to stress the kid out, he thought. But in the lead-up to states, he worried. A lot.
Then, his 170-pound iron-man senior hit the mat.
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"Thirty seconds into his first match, when he got a takedown, I knew it was over," Shaver said. "And then he clobbered everybody. When he's on, he is almost unbeatable."
Spurgeon compiled a 50-0 record en route to bringing home Plainedge's first state title since 1990. The only Long Island wrestler to win 50 matches without a loss, he is Newsday's Nassau wrestler of the year.
"It's been a long time since anybody won states at Plainedge," Spurgeon said. "That was really important because coach Shaver has been trying to break us through for years. He has said that we have the formula and the training to get the kids to this level now."
Despite a litany of injuries that included a hyperextended elbow and a pulled hamstring, in addition to the knee that required postseason surgery, Spurgeon never missed a practice or meet during his career.
Entering the 2011-12 season, Spurgeon had been a quality wrestler with consecutive all-county seasons to his name. In the fall, he played football for the first time since his freshman year and earned all-conference honors as a linebacker.
A 152-pounder last season, he moved up two weight classes, and began the season by going 20-0 in December.
"He is so physically strong and he has a great feel," Shaver said. "He's never in bad position, so he doesn't have to struggle to do everything."
Shaver says Spurgeon's athleticism and balance is off the charts, recalling a time when he ran more than 100 yards on his hands. More than his athletic prowess, Shaver credited the soft-spoken Spurgeon with becoming a mentor to the younger wrestlers.
But with a 5-0 lead in his county final match against East Meadow's Evan Pantofel, he had to overcome his roughest moment.
"In the county final, I came back after getting thrown on my back," Spurgeon said. "It hurts, and you don't want that to happen. It tied the match when I was in control. It takes a lot to come back after something like that."
He ended up with a 6-5 win, but the match served as a painful reminder that things were not always going be easy. At states, though, he never appeared to be in danger. And 30 seconds into his first state tournament bout, Shaver just had the feeling: Dan Spurgeon was darn near unstoppable.