It was an innocent question, the kind you shrug off and laugh about sometime down the line. When Calvert's Ryan Buff was a freshman, he walked up to former standout Jason Poore before practice one day and offered a few confident words for the school's all-time wins leader.
"So you're the guy whose record I'm going to break?" he asked.
Three years and more than 100 wins later, nobody's laughing.
Poore's record is one of only a few feats left for the 135-pound Buff, who as a junior last year capped a 40-0 season by winning the 125-pound title -- his first state crown -- at the Maryland 2A/1A tournament.
With a career record of 112-3, Buff is zeroing in on Poore's school record of 125 wins. The Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's all-time victory mark of 144, set by Chopticon's Eli Black (2000-04), dangles in front of him as an even bigger prize.
"I've been coaching here for 24 years, and I have to say he's the most impressive wrestler we've ever come against," Chopticon Coach Dane Kramer said. "Two years ago we had Brennan Hammett in states . . . and I knew he was going to beat Buff -- he just didn't do it. Each time he wrestled Buff, it just became less and less of a match.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would have bumped him up and taken a forfeit."
Calvert Coach Dave Kistler knew he had a strong wrestler in Buff when he inherited him as a freshman. Wrestling since he was 6, Buff's success at the junior league level served as a pretty good indicator of what was in store. But even then, few could have expected success to this degree. Buff has yet to lose a conference match and has won three straight SMAC and regional titles.
"You always hope for great things, but you don't really pre-plan," Kistler said. "You don't look at it and say, 'This guy is going to do this, or this guy's going to set a world record.' . . . He just came in as a freshman and has been a dominant force ever since he walked in that door."
After disappointing finishes at states during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Buff earned his first title last season, a feat that filled a significant gap on his resume. But with the pressure to win his first title behind him, don't expect his pursuit of a second to be any less ambitious.
The pressure, Buff said, comes from within. The night that he won the state championship, Buff started talking about his next title at dinner that night with coaches and family.
"All the records are important, but none of them really matter if I don't win states," said Buff, the SMAC's only returning state champ.
He constantly is looking for improvement. He even found fault in his performance at last year's 2A/1A tournament, in which he defeated Harford Tech's Mike Long, 3-1, in the final. After dissecting his performance, Buff established that he had started his warmups too early, which left him somewhat fatigued toward the end of the tournament.
"I'm sometimes not happy with my wins," Buff said. "I like to win every match convincingly. I don't want to leave any questions."
So to prepare Buff for another title run, Kistler is working overtime with him at practice. Kistler's entire staff takes turns training with Buff, exposing him to different styles and varying weights while presenting a new challenge every day.
"Ryan's mat preparation is awesome," Kistler said. "If you're the best wrestler in the state or the worst wrestler in the state, Ryan is going to step on that mat ready to wrestle and ready to wrestle his best that day."
Kistler often refers to an exchange he had with Buff at the beginning of his career. Buff was pinned once -- as a freshman -- and afterward he walked off the mat to adamantly assure his coach, "That will never happen again."
It didn't. And that shouldn't be much of a surprise. If the past three seasons have proved anything about Buff, it's that he sticks to his word.