Lex Knapp heard the talk.
Knapp knew that Ocean Township's Colton Bigelow was getting all of the attention heading into their 220-pound Region 6 final Saturday.
Bigelow, who will wrestle at Division I Edinboro University, has been considered one of the top upperweights in the state all season.
Even Knapp said Bigelow deserved the recognition.
That doesn't mean he was intimiated.
"I always like being underestimated," Knapp said.
Unfortunately for the Lacey Township senior, winning an impressive 5-3 decision against Bigelow and taking home Region 6's Most Outstanding Wrestler Award is going to make it difficult for him to get overlooked this weekend.
Knapp was one of 19 area wrestlers to qualify for the individual state wrestling tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The three-day tournament starts Friday.
"I never felt at any point that just because he was getting all of the attention and the rankings and everything that I couldn't beat him," Knapp said. "I just felt like with hard work I would be able to get there. I did the work and I was able to beat him.
Knapp was Lacey's first Region 6 champ since 2003, when Bowen Daily won the 152-pound title. Knapp enters the state tournament with a 39-0 record.
Lacey often gets overshadowed in the powerful Shore Conference, but the Lions quietly went 21-6 this season and made the semifinals of the South Jersey Group III tournament.
"I just wanted to show that it doesn't matter what school you go to," Knapp said. "It doesn't matter if you go to Jackson or Southern. If you work hard you can get there."
Knapp and Bigelow were scoreless after one period on Saturday.
Knapp chose down to start the second and escaped to take a 1-0 lead.
Bigelow hasn't been taken down more than a handful of times all season long but that's exactly what Knapp did early in the second to take a 3-0 lead.
"I felt like that was a big momentum shift because he hasn't really been put in much trouble this year, and I was able to put him in a little bit of danger," Knapp said. "That got the crowd behind me a little bit and it had me amped up. I had the No. 1 kid in the state in the brink of losing - I felt like at that point that I could do it."
Knapp took Bigelow down again in the second and fought off a late charge from Bigelow for the decision.
"Our whole team was there supporting him," said junior 138-pounder Steven Knapp, Lex's younger brother. "That was great. We love seeing each other succeed. Lex has really put Lacey's name out there. He's done a great job for the program and we couldn't be more proud of him."
Steven said his older brother's leadership in the wrestling room and on the mat has been a key in Lacey's success.
"We see what Lex does in the room to get to where he has been and now we know what to do," Steven said. "It makes the whole team better.'
Steven has been wrestling since he was young and was expected to have similar success to his older brother's at the high school level.
But a handful of concussions have made that difficult up to this point.
Steven won 18 matches as a freshman but missed his sophomore season following a severe concussion. He had another head injury during the first week of wrestling practice this season and after coming back a month later and winning seven of the eight matches he wrestled, was forced out with yet another concussion.
Steven said he is recovering now and is even thinking about trying to wrestle in junior nationals in a few weeks. He hopes a little bit of Lex's success this season rubs off on him next year.
"He gives me a lot to live up to," Steven said. "It's been great to see him having the season that he has had. He fell a little bit short of his goals the last two seasons so it's nice to see it coming all together for him.
"I could see him beating everyone and it would just make me so proud to see him win that state title he's been working so hard for."
The region title gives Knapp a bye into Friday night's pre-quarterfinals and has him just two wins away from being assured of a top-8 finish. It also helped Knapp jump Bigelow in the state seedings and pick up the No. 2 seed in the bottom half of the bracket at 220.
Knapp could meet bottom-bracket No. 1 seed Roy Lucas of St. Joseph in the semifinals if the seeds play out in an otherwise wide-open bracket.
"I am only focused on one thing and that's a state title," Knapp said. "Placing would be cool but all I really want is that gold. I've been wrestling since I was five years old and this is all I ever wanted."
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