Athlete of Week: Mat time pays off big for Armstrong

socwrest-armstrong2As a 6-foot, 260-pound offensive lineman at Socastee High, speed is not an asset normally attributed to sophomore C.J. Armstrong. But given his rapid transition to the sport of wrestling, the heavyweight just might be the fastest kid on the Braves’ mat.

After picking up the sport just two years ago as an eighth-grader at Forestbrook Middle, Armstrong has gone from beginner to contender in a relative blink of an eye. Armstrong and his coaches credit his work ethic for his rapid rise up the ranks, which is why last week’s snow-out of the North Brunswick (NC) Duals left him wanting more.

“It’s disappointing because we were prepared to go to North Brunswick,” said Armstrong, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week after going 6-0 at the Seahawk Duals in Hilton Head the previous week. “I like being able to wrestle because I learn something new every time I go out on the mat.”

That learning curve has been a short one for Armstrong, who is enjoying a breakthrough season this year in building a 24-5 overall record with 17 pins and only one forfeit, putting him in the top three on the team in total points scored. It all seemed to click earlier this season at Socastee’s HOSA Duals tournament.

“Last year I was still trying to learn all the moves but this year I’ve gotten a lot better thanks to all my teammates and coaches,” Armstrong said. “I was starting to get a little out of my comfort zone (before the HOSA Duals), but I started hitting moves I haven’t hit before and it started to come more natural to me. It’s been working ever since.”

His latest triumph came last week in Socastee’s region match with rival Conway. His second round win by pin marked another milestone for Armstrong, who celebrated his 16th birthday along with his team’s victory over the Tigers to help the Braves’ chances of winning the region title. They face Carolina Forest next week in a crucial region matchup.

Armstrong also credits former Socastee heavyweight Kyle Burton for helping him turn the corner in a short period of time. After a stellar high school career, Burton returned to Socastee as an assistant coach and took Armstrong on as a pet project. All those hours on the mat grappling with someone his own size and superior skills eventually paid off.

“Experience is the best teacher and the best way to get better by wrestling against stiff competition,” Armstrong said. “It pushes me harder and lets me know what I need to work on. I’ve been lucky to have Kyle and my coaches and other teammates work with me to get better, and I want to keep working hard to help my team.”

Armstrong will take another weekend off from the mat next week when Socastee hosts a Tough Time club wrestling event, but he will be on hand to help out. Just as Burton took his time to teach his replacement, Armstrong and his teammates will volunteer to help the next generation of Braves carry on the program’s tradition – another item on his to-do list.

“We will be mostly involved in concessions and cleaning up, stuff like that, but we also get the chance to talk to them and encourage them,” said Armstrong, who will then turn his attention to putting a strong finish on his big season.

“If we continue to get better and we continue to work hard, there’s no doubt we can win region. I just want to basically go out and do the best I can for me and my team, my coaches and Socastee. I just want to try me best and if I make some noise, I make some noise.”

So far Armstrong’s progress is coming through loud and clear, and his time on the mat could translate into better skills on the gridiron.

“We expect great things from C.J. this year on the mat,” said Socastee wrestling coach Jeffrey Gibbons, “and I am looking forward to watching him next fall use is new skill set on the gridiron for the Braves.”

Photo courtesy of Socastee Athletics

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