As one of the county's best wrestlers, Cartersville's Ty Downer understands how to properly position himself, and on Tuesday, the senior began a series of moves that will not only prolong his career but also lead him to the next phase of his life as a physician's assistant.
Downer has signed on to wrestle at Mercer University in Macon, an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
"It's crazy. I was never expecting to really wrestle in college, but when presented with the opportunity, I just jumped at it," he said. "It's great because Mercer has so many opportunities just to be able to get involved with student life, and then the addition of ROTC and them paying for college it's like I get to have a great college education while being able to wrestle on the side.
"Wrestling isn't necessarily gonna be my life for the next four years. It's gonna be school and going towards my career, and then I get to wrestle on the side, which is something I've loved and I've done it for the past seven years. So, being able to come out of college and say that I wrestled for 11 years is gonna be quite an accomplishment."
In a high school career full of accomplishments, Downer helped spearhead a program that reached numerous benchmarks courtesy of its outgoing senior class.
"I have a lot of pride because of how much we've done as a team, how much we've grown. We started out with a few of my good friends, and we were a decent team," Downer said. "As we traveled along and went through the years, it became me, Jake Johnson and Hans Navarrete and Tamichael Wills as the senior captains on the team, and we were able to lead our team to the most victories out of a season that we've ever had. We were able to just win certain tournaments and place higher in individual tournaments than we ever had, and that's just because of the simple fact of the work ethic that everyone on the team put in, not just ourselves."
Purple Hurricanes coach Garvin Edwards had a special name for the start of every afternoon practice, inspired by one of his most dedicated wrestlers.
"We start practice every day at 3:35 and that's called 'Ty Time.' And that's just a result of [him] always being there, always being on time, being consistent -- which is what he's been since he was a sixth grader in our program here," Edwards explained. "He's never been out of the lineup. He's always in the lineup. He's had an outstanding career here.
"At the end of this season, he had a torn ligament in his knee, but he never considered not being there. He always bandaged it up, wrapped it up and wrestled, and still wrestled at a high level, which just goes to show his intestinal fortitude and his toughness."
In the senior night match where he tore his knee ligament on Feb. 1, Downer simply told his coach that he didn't plan on quitting and went on to claim a victory in his final home outing. It is a performance that leaves know doubt as to the toughness of the future Bears wrestler.
"I've coached 24 years now and in those 24 years, I've never coached a tougher kid or wrestler. I've never coached a tougher one than Ty. He's one of the toughest kids we've ever worked with," said Edwards, a one-time coach at Armuchee. "We're so excited that he's gonna have this opportunity to move on to the next level. He loves the sport and only because of his determination, his work ethic and his solid, all-around attitude is he gonna be able to have the opportunity to move on to a place like Mercer University. He's an outstanding academic student.
"Last year he received our Col. Harvey Robinson Award for the wrestler we felt like was the most well-rounded, the best student-athlete. So we know he's gonna do well at the next level and ... for Ty there really is no limit. He can do whatever he sets out to do; he can do it and he can do it at a high level. I just look forward to seeing him prosper there like I know he's gonna do."
Downer, who consistently won 30 to 40 matches a year in high school, experienced his greatest year this season as he made a return to the state traditional tournament while compiling a 46-9 record.
"My senior season, it was the best I've had. I couldn't think of anything other than winning state that would make this entire experience better," he said. "I was able to build bonds with my team that I'm sure won't go away. I was able to build relationships with my coaches that just prepared me for life and just the things that you learn, especially when you know you're about to leave and it's all done. You know you have to fight harder to get what you want, rather than saying, 'Oh, I'll do it next year.'
"I ended beating people that I shouldn't have beaten. It just helped prepare me to know that I can do things in life that I want to do and no one can really stop me."
Downer plans to spend four years at Mercer, wrestling and participating in the ROTC program, before heading west to Texas for Mercer's physician assistant program.
"After [my four years at Mercer], I'll be going out to San Antonio, Texas, to their PA school. I'll be able to continue my education there, and then when I finish, I'll be a physician's assistant in the Army," he said.