It's difficult for the average person to realize just how much you need to sacrifice to become a great high school wrestler.
And while the road to his current No. 3 state ranking has not always been an easy one, Stevenson 145-pound senior Justin Weber knows what it means to pay the price first hand in his quest to ultimately reach the top of this extremely demanding sport.
Weber (33-2) learned the basics at a very young age as he attended the Buffalo Grove Bison Wrestling Club from second through seventh grades.
Then came a one-year stint on the Junior Patriots' squad in eighth grade before moving on to Stevenson where he has been on the varsity team under the guidance of coach Shane Cook since freshman year.
The early years were pretty difficult as Weber struggled to a 12-18 record as a freshman, but some big changes were about to take place following his sophomore year.
"It's been a great experience where I came from as an inexperienced freshman, and my body just matured and I worked extremely hard," said Weber, who will wrestle at Wisconsin next year along with older brother Brandon. "I started to mature as I went into sophomore year and quitting football was the biggest help between my sophomore and junior year."
After being the starting quarterback in football his freshman and sophomore years, focusing exclusively on wrestling last season resulted in Weber really turning the corner as a one-sport athlete.
He recorded a 39-6 record at 152 pounds while posting a 1-2 record at the 2012 state meet in Champaign.
That was a very good junior campaign by most peoples standards. But it was not good enough for Weber so he decided to drop down to 145 pounds this season which is his optimum weight for the greatest potential for success.
Of course that would mean even more of a strict training regimen and pretty much staying away from things like fast food, pizza, and other junk food completely.
But Weber knew he needed to focus on his priorities if he hopes to reach his dream of being a Class 3A state champion. The huge improvement between this year and last year has really shown.
"I wanted to get my weight down to 145 and I decided that I would drop weight and be a really big 145-pounder and that would benefit me even more," said Weber, who was also recruited by Iowa, Duke, Virginia, and Purdue.
Like many other elite wrestlers in the Chicagoland area, Weber also worked out at the Izzy Style School of Wrestling in Schaumburg since the fall of his junior year.
That club is led by former three-time West Aurora state champ Israel "Izzy" Martinez (1998-2000), and it has made a huge difference for Weber and many others in being able to take that next step towards reaching the mountain top.
"It (Izzy Style Wrestling) made the biggest difference, I improved so much from it, and he (Martinez) has really influenced my wrestling career," said Weber, who also pointed to former Stevenson teammate Danny Sabatello as a big motivating factor in his development.
Sabatello won state championships in 2010 and 2011 and he is currently a 133-pound wrestler at Purdue.
"Over the past two years he (Weber) has improved exponentially, he is set on one thing and that is winning the state title, and he works tirelessly on that goal every day," said Cook, who wrestled at Illinois. "Justin is very good friends with Danny (Sabatello) and Danny winning the state title (twice) inspired a lot of kids in our program including Justin."
"But he (Weber) is his own man and he is in the weight room every day at 7 a.m.," added Cook. "He could wrestle four hours straight and not get tired because he's pushed himself and prepared himself all year long."
Similar to Sabatello, who would often jump rope after winning multiple matches on the same day, Weber was seen running wind sprints after winning the North Suburban Conference championship last Saturday.
That kind of dedication could go a long way if Weber potentially meets up with top-ranked Bryce Brill of Mt. Carmel for the state crown Feb. 16 at the Assembly Hall. Lincoln-Way East's Kyle Langenderfer is ranked second at 145, but he may move up to 152.
Weber lost very early in the season to Plainfield Central's Ryan Holzrichter at the Barrington tourney before a recent loss to Hinsdale South's Justin Maslow, in a bout that Weber led 7-1.
"The one thing that he has is that he believes in his ability and he just has to go out and put it on the mat," said Cook. "The goal was never to be undefeated, the only goal is being undefeated in Champaign and he's a better wrestler now after those two losses."
Cook knows that to really make it big in this sport that wrestlers need to almost go at it year-round. Weber has basically been going at it for 11 months out of the year with the exception of August.
"He's committed his life to wrestling 11 months out of the year and he gave up something he loved (football) in order to put himself in the position to compete at this level," said Cook. "He (Martinez) has always supported our program and what we do and the guys we have sent there (Izzy Style) have always come back better wrestlers."
Parents (Jackie and Joey) have always provided the guidance and understanding for Justin through the many ups and downs and Brandon has always been there for his younger brother in good times and bad.
"My parents do everything for me, they're the best, and my brother is the biggest believer in me," said Weber, who has a 4.3 grade-point average and scored a 29 on his ACT. "We're very close and he's always been there for me."
Brandon Weber scored a 30 on his ACT to help pave his way into Wisconsin before red-shirting his first year there. Then he "walked on" to the Badgers' wrestling squad and he is now on scholarship as a freshman at 197 pounds.
Cook and the Weber family go way back and they look forward to keeping in touch for years to come.
"I've known Shane probably since sixth grade and he's always been there, coach (Cook) has just instilled a lot of what my attitude is, and the biggest thing he's done is make me tough," Weber said. "Just watching Danny Sabatello made me think I could be on his level some day. Mark Jolcover is one of my best friends and he has the same attitude as me."
Jolcover broke his neck just before his junior season at Stevenson and he was told by doctors that he would never wrestle again.
But Jolcover beat the odds and then some as he reached the state meet last year as a senior and he is now wrestling at the University of Northern Iowa.
So there have certainly been more than enough inspirational people to go around in the Patriots' program recently. This season was Weber's turn to motivate and lead by example.
"That will be an incredible experience for the Weber family and they will continue that legacy at the University of Wisconsin," Cook said. "He (Justin) understands the work is not finished and every day is an opportunity to improve."
Weber's game plan and approach for regionals, sectionals, and state will not fluctuate from this point forward.
"I've just really worked on my technique, just been a student of the sport and learned," said Weber, who is considering business or law as majors. "I'm just a lot more confident and that is a huge part of the sport.
"I'm not going to be satisfied with anything but a state title," added Weber. "I just have to wrestle my match and I'm the underdog as far as wrestling Brill. I've just got to believe I'm the best."
Other state placewinners from Stevenson were Adam Ullrich (fourth at 140 in 2001), Adam Lipitz (fifth at 119 in 1997), Tony Aufmann (sixth at 130 in 2002), and R.J. Cohen (sixth at 152 in 1997).Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.