Steel Armstrong's performance at the Arizona State Junior High/Middle School Wrestling Tournament showed who was the best wrestler in the mat skirmish.
In winning both the state heavyweight championships and the tournament's "Outstanding Wrestler Award," the 195-pound Rim Country Middle School eighth-grader pinned all five of his opponents in the first period. Three of the wrestlers Armstrong defeated entered the tournament undefeated.
The championships were Jan. 29 at Marcos de Niza High School.
The teen attributed his success to a rigid practice regimen under coaches Doug Eckhardt and Homer Sanders.
"I trained hard and then tried to use the techniques I learned and my strength," he said.
In addition to excelling in wrestling, Armstrong was a starring member of the Mavericks' undefeated football team.
His showing in the state wrestling tournament was vindication for the disappointment he suffered after a highly controversial loss in the heavyweight championship round of the White Mountain League tournament.
In the WML finale, Armstrong lost his only match of the season to a foe he had beaten three times previously.
Armstrong was saddled with the overtime 1-0 defeat after the referee cited the RCMS athlete for stalling.
Armstrong's father, Jimbo, a former Longhorn standout, refused to make excuses for the loss, but said, "it made him a better wrestler."
Last year as a seventh-grader at RCMS, Armstrong won the WML championship and was second at state.
Also from Payson, 164-pound Bryan Burke and 142-pound Nick Goodman wrestled to runner-up finishes.
Diminutive but feisty seventh-grader Ben Sandoval was sixth in the 93-pound class.
At the state meet, the teens competed as a Payson club team, rather than for the middle school. They finished sixth overall.
The RCMS wrestling program wrapped before Christmas.