Sam Book tried to keep his cool. The University of Virginia, Book’s dream school, had just offered the Robinson senior a spot on its wrestling team.

Sam Book was a first-team All-Met selection last winter. (Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post) Sam Book was a first-team All-Met selection last winter. (Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post)

“I wanted to just on the spot be like, ‘I’ll take it,’ ” Book said. “I didn’t have to really take too many days to think it over.”

That September offer was a jarring moment for a wrestler barely on the recruiting radar at the start of 2016. When his junior year ended in June, Book was still without a region title, having lost to Lake Braddock’s Dante Wiles in the 120-pound weight class over and over again. Wiles manhandled him in the Virginia 6A North region final during Book’s freshman year, then pinned him in their regular season meeting during Book’s junior year. Book put up a better fight in February’s rematch, dropping a brutal and bloody 8-5 decision on the center mat at Fairfax.

Book’s breakthrough came a week later in Virginia Beach. Robinson’s wily 120-pounder met Wiles yet again, but this time he scraped out a 6-4 victory. Book raised his arms and watched his name join a long list of state champions at Fairfax’s perennial wrestling powerhouse.

College coaches took notice of Book at that point, but Virginia’s pursuit was still months away. In July, Book attended a camp in Charlottesville, where he displayed his dogged style during drill sessions with Virginia assistant Shelton Mack.

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“That allowed me to show them that I can be this next-level guy, that I can be what you need me to be,” Book said.

Virginia, currently ranked 24th in the country by USA Today, offered Book a couple months later, and it didn’t take him long to weigh his options. Book stayed with former Robinson teammate and current Virginia wrestler Zak DePasquale on his first official college visit. Former Westfield standout and offseason teammate Jay Aiello, a freshman grappler for the Cavaliers, also swayed Book’s decision.

Book’s wrestling gifts don’t stem from preternatural strength or explosiveness, nor do they shine in technical perfection. He’s a grinder, someone who will rely on his smarts and conditioning to push the pace as a match wears into its agonizing third period.

“Ever since he was a little boy, he’s had this knack to just be a little bit smarter and a little bit tougher than everybody,” Robinson Coach Bryan Hazard said. “He finds reasons to win. He finds reasons to get better.”

Book’s toughness usually pours out in gruesome fashion — he suffers nose bleeds almost every time he hits the mat. Doctors have tried sealing his blood vessels numerous times through the painful process of cauterization, and he applies Afrin Nasal Spray before matches to keep the problem at bay.

“It’s just something you get used to,” Book said. “Being around blood so much when you wrestle, it’s just not that big of a deal to me anymore.”

This season, Book leads a fourth-ranked Robinson squad that has yet to drop a dual meet. The Rams finished third against 13 Pennsylvania teams at last week’s Manheim tournament, notching first-place finishes from Book, Aaron Howell, Nik Gerard and Thomas Mukai.

Also coming on strong for Robinson this winter is Tyler Hazard, Bryan’s son and Book’s best friend. Hazard, who finished runner-up at regionals and states last season, signed his national letter-of-intent to Lehigh, currently the country’s ninth-ranked Division I program.

NUMBER CRUNCH: 51
Total blocks through 10 games for H.D. Woodson center Urlick Evans, tops in the area among statistics reported to AllMetSports this season. Evans swatted 13 shots in the Warriors’ 89-50 win over Anacostia on Dec. 14.

BREAKFAST LINKS

MUST-SEE VIDEO

Check out this week’s episode of Top Plays, with dunks and buzzer-beaters from a busy stretch of holiday tournament action.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis reveals the top plays from the week of basketball in the DMV area. (Video by Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: High school hoops

Dillon Mullan ( follow him @DillonMullan) will be in Forestville for a WCAC girls’ showdown between McNamara and Elizabeth Seton. Jacob Bogage (@jacobbogage) heads to Northern Virginia for a Conference 6 girls’ matchup between unbeaten Hayfield and Langley. And Nick Eilerson (@NickEilerson) will be in Alexandria to see West Potomac and W.T. Woodson vie for the top spot in Conference 7.