TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - At Washburn Rural, you'd be amiss to mention the sport of wrestling without the name Gavin Carter.
"Gavin Carter probably is where you start and finish most wrestling conversations,” Coach Damon Parker said. “He's ranked #1 in the state all classes, and that's for a reason."
The senior is an undefeated 33-0 on the mat this year.
"But we're more proud of Gavin for what he's doing in here in this room than what he's doing out on the mat,” Damon said at practice.
It's behind the scenes — away from the attention-grabbing lights of competition — where Parker says Carter shines the brightest.
"He's a coach. He's just an extension of our coaching staff,” Parker said. “He leads them in warm-ups, he leads them in technique teaching, and when we go out on the mat before a tournament, he's the one that does the pep talk.”
"A lot of guys in this room just kind of look up to me,” Carter said. “More than anything, I try to lead through action. You see a lot of guys trying to lead people and not necessarily living what they preach, and that doesn't really make any impact anywhere. I'm not just on the sides telling them how to do things, I'm in there with them."
"He's pretty much taken over our program, and he's leading us to where we want to be,” Parker said. "Leadership like Gavin's is uncommon. We've got an uncommon program here, and Gavin is an uncommon man among uncommon men."
With Parker and Carter at the helm, hard work and having fun go hand-in-hand.
"This is one of the goofier teams that I've ever had,” Parker said. "It’s not traditional. It's not the way that most people do it, and we're fine with that. I think that's why we're performing so well this year. They finally dropped that bag of bricks and they're just out there having a good time."
That’s been the recipe to success for the team's first-ever league title won this weekend.
"It is not a grind. I hear people say that nonsense, oh, embrace the grind, you hear that all the time,” Parker said. “It's not a grind. Wrestling is fun."
"The relationships are super important, more than anything else, more than the wrestling. It's the relationships,” Carter said. “”Putting your team first and caring about those around you, that's what separates us from other programs."
With regionals and state around the corner, there's no one else the nine-year head coach would rather having leading the charge into battle.
"I don't know how to describe it. I've told anybody that'll listen,” Parker said. “I'll have a bunch more state champs at Washburn Rural. But I'll never have another Gavin Carter."