Jamel Hudson walked around the emptying Times Union Center in Albany on the evening of Feb. 25, clutching his massive most outstanding wrestler trophy, one so mammoth it obscured his 132-pound frame.
Everywhere he turned, there was another hand to shake, another person who wanted to offer their sincerest congratulations.
Hudson began the evening by singing a flawless rendition of the national anthem while decked out in his St. Anthony's warm-ups. Ninety or so minutes later, he took to the mat, securing an 8-1 win over Williamsville East's Dylan Cohen to win the NYSPHSAA Division I state title.
A three-time CHSAA state champion, Hudson became the fourth CHSAA wrestler to win a state public schools championship. He went 35-1 with 21 pins and is Newsday's Long Island Wrestler of the Year.
"I feel like a celebrity," Hudson said. "Everyone keeps walking up to me, still congratulating me about what I achieved, not only for myself and St. Anthony's, but for Long Island wrestlers, as well. It was a huge accomplishment, and I'm still living on cloud nine."
Hudson transferred from Bay Shore to St. Anthony's as a sophomore, and it became apparent to Friars coach Tony Walters that he had someone special. He had an athletic specimen who had not yet scratched the surface of his boundless talent.
"The first day of watching him in the wrestling room, I said to the coaches, 'I need to lay my hands on this kid,' " Walters said. "There was something there that you needed to mold. Once he started seeing that I was out to help, the relationship changed. It was about molding what he had as an athlete and turning him into a wrestler."
Hudson soon became one of the CHSAA's top wrestlers, but it took time for him to harness his gift. Last year, after a second CHSAA state title, Hudson placed a disappointing fifth at the state tournament, which included a 15-2 defeat in the wrestlebacks.
"We talked immediately after he got off the awards stand," Walters said. "The talk turned to, 'what do we need to do?' He needed to mature to that level where he said, 'I need to do whatever it takes.' He made the change right then and there, and then it was non-stop. He kept pushing, and every match he got better and better."
Off the mat, Hudson is an accomplished performer who headlined a variety show entitled "Renaissance Man" at St. Anthony's on Jan. 26. Despite preparing for a show less than a month before states, the controlled chaos suited Hudson just fine.
"He's wired a little different than everyone else," said Ronald Hudson, Jamel's father. "He knows what he wants and goes after it. He doesn't spend a lot of wasted time with peers. He is always on task."
Added Jamel Hudson: "My dad instilled in me time management. We did the show. When the show was coming up, we put down wrestling for a bit and went crazy on the show. After the show ended, we went crazy for wrestling."
After the show, Hudson won eight of his next nine matches by pin, including an eight-second victory in his opening state tournament bout, the fastest recorded pin in the 50-year history of the event. He finished the tournament as its undisputed superstar, a singing and wrestling double-threat.
With his high school career now complete, Hudson's plans are grand in stature. Collegiate All-American. Tony Awards. Platinum records. The sky's the limit.
Said Walters: "It's sad that he's a senior and leaving, and there will be other great kids to come through the program, but there will never be another Jamel Hudson."