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.
“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.
“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.
I am very proud to announce my commitment to further my academic and wrestling career at the University of Virginia pic.twitter.com/FxIbUpPlYb
— Sam Book (@Sam_Book_) September 13, 2016
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.”
The cubs won, Trump is president, and @Sam_Book_ 's opponent got a nose bleed first. With this trend, what possibility could come next
— Connor Dunphy (@DunphyConnor) November 11, 2016
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.
Very excited to announce that I am continuing my wrestling and academic career at Lehigh University pic.twitter.com/KqDkXrGu7q
— oh youre hazards son (@SpeedbumpHazard) November 1, 2016
— Coach Jimmo (@JimmoCoach) November 15, 2016
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.
- Check out The Post’s newest Top 20 boys’ basketball poll, where Gonzaga ascends to the top spot and unbeaten Kennedy enters the rankings for the first time this year
- And here’s the latest installment of our girls’ hoops poll, where undefeated Oakton surges into the top five and Chantilly joins the fray
- Montgomery basketball notebook: Wootton girls get back to winning; Magruder’s Dan Harwood nabs 500th career victory
- District basketball notebook: Anacostia girls ride “55” to victory; Thurgood Marshall boys weather the storm
- Prince William basketball notebook: Potomac (Va.) harnesses tradition; Forest Park starts hot
- WCAC basketball notebook: St. Mary’s Ryken boys are beginning to measure up
- Howard/Anne Arundel basketball notebook: Kiana Williams has Long Reach on the rise
- Northern Virginia basketball notebook: Herndon stands up to a tall tournament test
- Loudoun basketball notebook: Tuscarora works through the holidays to meet rising expectations
- Southern Maryland basketball notebook: Westlake weathers the storm as its sharpshooter returns to health
- Long a hotbed for high school hockey, the D.C. area will finally host some NCAA ice hockey this weekend when the Washington Pride hosts Mercyhurst and St. Lawrence for two games at the Kepler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Saturday and Sunday.
Check out this week’s episode of Top Plays, with dunks and buzzer-beaters from a busy stretch of holiday tournament action.
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.