First of an occasional series on how area high school athletes are spending their summers with hopes of continuing their sports careers in college.
Nick Damron remembers being scared the first time he wrestled Huntingtown's Trevon Jenifer, in December. The Patuxent junior was intimidated facing an opponent born without legs. How would he wrestle Jenifer? Would he have to take it easy on him?
But now, with five matches against Jenifer under his belt, Damron won't bat an eyelash the next time the two square off.
"He knows I know how to wrestle him," Damron said, "but I know he's been working on a few things to keep up his sleeve."
Jenifer's first stab at wrestling was a stunning success. Competing in the 103-pound weight class, he went 17-19 last season for the Hurricanes. At every gym he entered, Jenifer attracted legions of curious and astounded spectators, and opposing wrestlers and coaches were likewise amazed.
This summer Jenifer is preparing for his senior season -- and possibly a college career -- with perhaps a bigger challenge. Jenifer no longer has the element of surprise and will not be able to appeal to his opponents' soft sides. Every wrestler in Southern Maryland -- as well as most statewide -- now knows Jenifer can wrestle.
"People are going to have to approach me like I'm someone with legs," Jenifer said last week at Huntingtown's wrestling camp. "It's just like any other match for them."
Damron said: "I think some people [last season] felt bad for him, and maybe they felt like taking it easy on him. Now, they're going to step it up and go hard after him."
Jenifer acknowledges that the novelty has worn off. Toward the end of last season, he said, he started to realize there was less excitement when he entered the mat than in the early part of the season. As he faced opponents a second and third time, he could not rely on the same tactics he used to defeat them the first time.
"If you wrestle the same guys over and over, you've got to change things up," Huntingtown Coach Terry Green said. "You've got to develop new moves and new ways to open up the other guy."
Jenifer spent much of the spring in the weight room. No longer will he sacrifice body weight like he did last season, when, as a 96-pounder, he was outweighed by as much as 10 pounds by his opponents.
Jenifer has bulked up to about 112 pounds, but he intends to drop back to 103 pounds for the season. He bench-presses 175 pounds and curls 30-pound dumbbells with each arm.
"He's humongous," said Huntingtown sophomore Daniel Justice, who, at 112 pounds, was Jenifer's practice partner for much of last season. "He weightlifts like crazy. It's like wrestling a rock with branches. His shoulders look twice as big as they used to be.
"He'll be a better wrestler, but whether he does better, I don't know."
Size is the edge Jenifer hopes to use against familiar opponents at the beginning of the coming season. They may be accustomed to facing a wrestler with no legs, but Jenifer expects them to be surprised by his added muscle.
"It's a different scared level," Damron said. "Last year, it was because he didn't have legs. This year, it's because he's phenomenal."
Just maybe, Jenifer is phenomenal enough to wrestle in college. For years, he has talked about landing an athletic scholarship. Until nine months ago, Jenifer's only options seemed to be from the handful of schools that offer grants for a wheelchair sport like basketball or track. But it has been a couple of years since he participated in either of those sports.
"I haven't done basketball or track in a long time," Jenifer said, "so it may be difficult to get back in a groove. But if a [wrestling] scholarship is out there, I'm going to look at it."
Jenifer's story continues to gain national attention, and that will only enhance his chances of being offered a scholarship, which he said is a necessity for him to afford college. Last week, a crew from Australia was at Huntingtown filming a piece that is set to air on The Discovery Channel.
But don't think Jenifer is tiring of the attention; he remains as grateful for it as he was in December, when, at a tournament, a young girl became the first to ask him for his autograph.
"The thing with the spotlight is just the reward for all the hard work," Jenifer said, "and it's like any other reward. It can be taken away from you at any moment."