Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — The start of Cody Thomas’ wrestling career didn’t exactly set the world on fire. In 18 matches during his eighth grade year, Thomas won a grand total of one.
He wasn’t looked at as an athlete, he wasn’t taken seriously on the mat and he wasn’t what you’d consider a blooming prospect in the sport.
But instead of allowing those labels to define him, Cody Thomas did what many others don’t have the guts to do: he faced adversity head on, turned it into fuel and used it to rise to the top.
“I wasn’t very athletic. I was built nothing like how I am now,” Thomas said. “I was short and stocky at the time, something like 5-foot-3, 130 pounds. I was never called an athlete. When I went into a match, I would be completely dominated. But that gave me a passion, a passion to get better.”
And so he did get better.That summer, Thomas painted houses and mowed lawns to raise enough money to buy his ticket into a premiere wrestling camp.
That summer, Thomas painted houses and mowed lawns to raise enough money to buy his ticket into a premiere wrestling camp.
“I learned a lot of stuff and it made me physically stronger,” Thomas said of the camp. “It gave me a good work ethic and I came back with a mindset of, ‘Hey, I want to kick some butt.’”
At the beginning of his freshman year, Huntington coach Mark DePugh asked Thomas what his goals were … remember, after a season where he finished 1-17. Thomas told him he wanted to win 20 matches and qualify for district competition.
For someone on the outside looking in, it was an outlandish statement and a goal that was, seemingly, unreachable. But Thomas wasn’t someone on the outside looking in and he, frankly, didn’t care what others thought.
“Often times, people feel like they can’t compete or be an athlete because they don’t fit the mold of an athlete,” DePugh said. “Cody Thomas came in and he didn’t fit the mold of an athlete. But he decided he wanted to be a wrestler. If you commit to something in life, usually, you do pretty well in that. Cody Thomas committed to wrestling.”
He also won his 20th match that season during district competition.
“I was so excited. During the sectional semifinal match, I was getting completely destroyed,” Thomas said, smiling. “I just kept working. He hit a peterson roll on me and I hit him with the nastiest crossface of my life. I winded up putting him on his back and pinning him. I was going nuts. It didn’t register until I was getting my hand raised that I was going to districts.”
That entire sequence of events could basically sum up Thomas’ entire wrestling career.
Now, three years removed from his first district tournament appearance, Thomas has made history inside Huntington’s program by winning his 100th career match — he’s the first Huntsmen to ever do so.
No. 100 came Saturday afternoon when Thomas pinned West Union’s Brady Anderson in the second period.
“It feels amazing. It’s one of the goals I set during my freshman year,” Thomas said. “Reaching triple digits is awesome. It feels good to be the first one in our program to do it. I can know I started this and people are going to be looking up at me and saying, ‘I want to be like him.’”
And, in Thomas’ signature style, his 100th win only means bigger goals are on the horizon. He wants to break the program’s career pin record of 64 — currently held by Jeremy Fletcher — is now aiming at 120 career wins and hopes to qualify for the state wrestling tournament.
You could insert a comment here about how lofty each of those goals may be, but he’s been in that situation before.
“It starts with dieting properly. You can’t be eating Sour Patch Kids and chugging Mountain Dew all day long,” Thomas said. “And then you have to have a good work ethic. I didn’t always have that. I started from the bottom of the totem pole. You have to be mentally tough. When your body tells you it wants to give up, you have to find that extra inner strength. It’s determination.”
Determination is the epitome of Thomas’ personality. DePugh said he’s the first one to arrive at Huntington’s brand new wrestling facility each day and the last one to leave.
“His work ethic is amazing. He’s disciplined, he manages his weight and he pushes himself hard everyday,” DePugh said. “All of the things that Cody Thomas has done here has been a model for exactly what a coach dreams of having in their program.”
Whether he makes the state tournament or not, Thomas plans to join the United States Corps as a combat engineer following graduation.
But that dream also started on the wrestling mat.
“Coach DePugh sent me a link to a Marine wrestling camp at Olentangy Liberty High School,” Thomas said. “I went there and we didn’t just learn wrestling. We talked about wrestling, leadership and [the Marines’] core values: honor, courage and commitment. Wrestling has all three of those. They go hand in hand. So it really hit home for me.”
But before he fights for his country, he’ll attend to business as a Huntsmen, where his goals are never met … they just get bigger.
There’s no doubt that, with the support of his teammates coupled with his work ethic, those 120 wins, 64 pins and that state qualification will come.
“My team means everything to me,” Thomas said. “Having these guys come in every single day and working our butts off, it’s a type of brotherly love. When everybody’s pushing and we’re wrestling, it’s a really cool feeling. Watching them win makes me happy. I’m kind of like the mom in the stands screaming, I’m just right by coach down on the mat.”’
On the mat. That’s where Cody Thomas will be. Fighting, scratching, clawing for victory.