He is there everyday at 3:30 p.m., doing the best he can, whatever he can, to better himself and his team. Stretching, hustling, lifting, whatever it takes to improve his moves.
His foot hurts, but excuses don’t win state titles. Excuses won’t help out his new coach and excuses won’t make him a leader on the Rock Bridge wrestling team.
And so, with a thick black protective boot covering his broken foot, Justin Davis is there on the worn-out yellow and green wrestling mats and in the halls with his teammates, shouting encouragement while they run sprints.
He might not be able to wrestle at 100 percent, but his workouts include jumping rope on one foot, working on his stance and footwork.
Davis, a 103-pound state qualifier last season, has suffered through a myriad of injuries in his career. The list includes shoulder surgery his freshman year, torn cartilage in his ribs before districts last season, and a broken left foot before this season. His foot was injured while on a six-mile training run.
As the only senior on a Bruins team that features 12 freshmen, Davis’ daily practice appearances have made coach Brook Harlan’s first head coaching job easier.
“Just making sure everybody’s working hard, doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Davis said.
Maturity has been the key theme for Davis the past couple years. While at 5 feet 3, he has not grown much physically and he will wrestle at 103 pounds again this season, he has grown up in many other ways on and off the mat. Davis said it’s what he has been trying to improve on most this offseason.
“Keeping my composure and position on the mat,” he said. “If something bad happened, I’d get down on myself too easily, beat myself up.”
To remedy that, at practice Davis has taken to wrestling with his coaches, former wrestlers he knows will be able to test his mental and physical abilities.
Davis has been challenging himself since last season when his unexpected appearance at state spurred him to work harder this offseason. Harlan said Davis showed a different side last season, demonstrating he is more than ready to be the only senior on the roster.
“He’s thrown himself into our system,” he said. “He’s matured a lot as a person, and the other kids are going to going to see him showing up at morning practice, working hard despite his injury, and want to follow in his footsteps.”
Davis said last season was a building block for this season. He reached the second round of wrestlebacks where he was eliminated in a 3-2 overtime thriller against Blue Springs’ Michael Toon. But he said he came away from the experience with a valuable lesson.
“Hard work really pays off,” Davis said. “I worked hard to beat the really good kids in my weight class ... That would be my goal (this year), to beat the kid that beat me last time (at state).”
Although Harlan said the foot injury was a disappointment, there have been some positives that have emerged as a result.
“He’s stepped up being the leader ever since the last year,” he said.
“Justin’s making sure the guys are staying focused and working hard. They’re seeing him out there working, even with the boot on, doing as much as he can without hurting himself.”
The boot has come off in recent practices, and Davis promises to be ready to go when the Bruins open up at the Parkway South tournament on Dec. 2.