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Blanton had no trouble staying motivated

By Staff
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
PELHAM – In a sport like wrestling, where it ultimately comes down to the individual's performance, personal motivation can be very important. For Hartselle's Caleb Blanton, who won the 145-pound Class 5A title Saturday evening, that motivation came from many different places.
That build-up of motivation started in 2005, when Blanton was a sophomore and was the only one of Hartselle's 13-member wrestling team who failed to qualify for the state tournament. That Tiger team would eventually go on to win the Class 5A team title.
"That was tough to not make state with those guys that year," Blanton said after his 6-5 win over McAdory's Heath Jolley in the 145-pound final Saturday. "It's definitely been motivation for me these past two years, and then to lose in the final last year only gave me even more motivation."
Blanton is referring to his finish as a junior at the 2006 state tournament, when he advanced to the 140-pound final before falling to Pinson Valley's Juan Zapata. That loss was especially tough to take, because Blanton had defeated Zapata earlier in the regular season.
Ultimately, that second-place finish would become a case of history repeating itself. Caleb's father Charlie Blanton had a similar outcome in his high school wrestling career at Morgan County High School.
Charlie, who died in 2001 because of a heart attack, won the state's 140-pound title as a senior, a year after finishing second in the same weight class. It was the high school's first individual wrestling championship.
"Dad was always there on the side of the mat watching me when I wrestled in junior high," Caleb Blanton said. "I know he was watching me tonight, as well."
Blanton finished the year 41-1, with his lone loss coming in the Grissom Duals in January. That loss would be the final time Blanton would wrestle during the regular season as he injured an abdomen muscle and did not wrestle again until sectionals.
"We wouldn't let him wrestle again after that Grissom match," Hartselle coach Dan Styles said. "You know, I think that loss might have actually been one of the better things to happen to Caleb – I think it helped relieve some of the pressure."
If Blanton was feeling any pain from that injured abdomen muscle, he didn't show it during the wrestling postseason – he was undefeated in both sectionals and at the state tournament.
The pressure for Blanton to win the state title began right away, as he was named No. 1 in the initial Alabamawrestling.net 145-pound rankings and remained No. 1 throughout the entire season.
"He did this with a ton of pressure after those early rankings," Styles said of his senior. "But he's even keeled. You wouldn't know if he was 0-20 or 20-0. He's just one of those guys that deserves to have good things happen."
Blanton was also a starting linebacker on Hartselle's 11-2 football team this season, a team that advanced to the state semifinals before falling to eventual champion Athens. Even though they were different sports, Blanton admitted that the difficult ending to the football season also helped to motivate him as he moved from the grass to the mat.
"This feels a lot better than losing in football did," he said. "I like them both, because in football you make a big hit and you can hear the crowd go crazy and it's the same thing when you make a pin in wrestling."
Blanton said he plans to attend Southern Union State Community College for two years to get basic academics in order and then wants to transfer to Auburn. He does not plan to continue wrestling in college.
"This is it. It was a really nice way to finish," he said.
Styles, who was on the Hartselle football coaching staff as well, said he only told Blanton one thing before the wrestler took on the last opponent of his career.
"I just told him, 'Make it worth it,'" Styles said. "And he certainly did."

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