When most 8-year-olds were at home playing with Legos, video games and watching TV, R.C. LaHaye was in the wrestling room, dreaming of the days he would become a mat star.
Now as a Payson High School junior and one of Longhorns' most celebrated wrestlers, he leaves little doubt why he first was drawn to the sport.
"You're alone by yourself, no one to depend on and you can't blame (a loss) on anyone else -- that's why I liked it," he said.
In building a 130-9 record over the course of the past three years, LaHaye has had little need to explain away loses -- they simply have been few and far between.
The last sting of defeat the Longhorn wrestler felt occurred in December 1998 when he lost a decision to an Eloy Santa Cruz athlete.
"He just caught me," LaHaye said. "I shouldn't have lost."
Determined to roar back from the defeat, he whipped that same SC wrestler handily twice later that season.
He finished his sophomore campaign 48-3 and the Class 3A state champion in the 130-pound weight division.
At the Central Regional finals held in Coolidge, he was named Outstanding Wrestler in the tournament.
This season, LaHaye -- now a 135-pounder --has reaped even more honors, compiling a 34-0 record that includes 23 pins. His accomplishments against Phoenix, Tucson and California athletes have stamped him as one of the best in the west.
Typically, opposing athletes spend no more than a few seconds on the mat with LaHaye.
In a Dec. 8 East division match in Show Low, he took his opponent to the mat early and in only 50 seconds, recorded a victory on a fall.
About the only time the youngster has been slowed this season was following the championship match at the Jan. 8 California tournament.
After breaking his hand in a freak accident early in the going, LaHaye battled through the injury to emerge victorious. The points generated by the weight class crown played a pivotal role in the team capturing the tournament championship. Sidelined about two weeks with the injury, LaHaye returned to action in the Tim Van Horn Memorial.
In addition to the unblemished record and tenacity to record the quick pin, LaHaye's exceptional efforts have earned him Outstanding Wrestler honors at the Camp Verde Invitational, Rim Country Duals, Estancia (Calif.) Invitational and the Tim Van Horn Memorial held last week in Wilson dome.
Over the course of his career, he's corralled a whopping seven outstanding wrestler citations.
LaHaye's exploits the past two seasons have been mind boggling. But, his accomplishments as a raw, untested freshman in 1997-98 might have been his greatest ever.
Often battling against older, more experienced athletes, he finished with a 48-6 mark and state fourth-place laurels.
Years earlier, as a fifth-grade elementary school student, he was a young standout on the Rim Country Middle School wrestling team. And even earlier, he excelled in the youth program competing in both USA freestyle and Greco-Roman competition statewide.
With regional and state tournaments as well as his senior season ahead of him, there's plenty more LaHaye wants to accomplish on the high school scene.
But he's also begun to focus on what he hopes will be a grappling career on the next level.
He's had conversations with colleges around the country interested in acquiring his services and has begun the process of sorting through each offer.
Should scholarships be tendered, the youngster -- a B-plus student --has the grades to qualify for a four-year institution.
"I'm still thinking about where I'd like to go," he said. "(College) is definitely a goal of mine."