Boiling Springs’ heavyweight Damon James likes to think of himself as light-hearted and a jokester, but when it comes to sports he likes to keep it serious — a get-down-to-business type of person.
He’s also the type of kid you would imagine playing every contact sport there is.
Well, he pretty much does. The junior currently participates in football, rugby and wrestling, three of the most contact-heavy sports there are.
With this fact in mind, know that James’ mom, Wendy, worries about him. So much so that she tried to keep him from wrestling when he was very young.
James started off in football with a lot of friends in the fourth grade, and when those friends moved on to wrestling, James wanted to move on, too.
“The same kids’ parents who taught the youth football program taught the youth wrestling program. They’ve just been bringing us up,” James said. “My coaches always told me I should wrestle, but my mom wasn’t really too into it. I was just really excited about it and I just wanted to jump into it. My first year I actually did pretty good.”
His mom temporarily banned wrestling after that first season. She told him he couldn’t wrestle again until he could make the choice for himself, which meant he had to wait until the seventh grade to dabble in wrestling again.
“In the fourth grade, he wrestled for the Boiling Springs Bandits — I couldn’t even take it then,” Wendy said with a laugh. “I was under the bleachers, I was out in the hallway. I told my husband, ‘You record him, and I’ll watch it later because I can’t watch it.’”
Even then, James had to go behind his mom’s back and get his dad to sign papers so he could continue wrestling.
According to James, his mom took him out of wrestling because she didn’t like the weight-cutting his friends were going through and she believed he would start doing the same.
“He wasn’t going to stop, and if I can’t beat ‘em I have to join ‘em,” Wendy said about finally allowing Damon to wrestle.
The weight-cutting is a stereotype about the sport Damon also hates.
“I hate that wrestling is branded with the, ‘Oh, everybody’s cutting weight.’ That’s not what the sport is about,” James said. “The sport is about you going out there with the heart to win, and whoever wants it the most gets it. Even if you don’t win, you’ll learn something from it and you can move forward from it.”
James uses that mentality along with his natural gifts to take an offensive approach on the mat, something he believes helps him in all three of his sports.
Boiling Springs lightweight Austin Mahoney is your typical high school kid.
“I’ve always been attracted to wrestling because I’m a contact sports type of guy,” James said. “That’s what I’m built for — I’m a bigger guy. I’m naturally strong, so it just makes sense for me to do things like that.”
James’ natural gifts have made him one of the best heavyweights around the Mid-Penn and an irreplaceable asset for the Bubblers’ lineup — something they learned last season when James went down with a knee injury during the Trojan Wars at Chambersburg High School over the holiday break.
It’s been covered to death by now, but injuries ransacked the Boiling Springs lineup last season.
Along with James, Jalin Hankerson and Peyton Stauffer and others were stuck on the sidelines for varying amounts of time watching a Bubblers squad struggle to even stay afloat during a 7-4 season (4-2 Mid-Penn Colonial).
Perhaps ironically considering his disdain for the stereotype, James’ injury came after a stretch of cutting weight. He also didn’t take the right focus to maintaining his body, which added to the problem.
It all came to a head in one match in Chambersburg.
“Long story short, I was wrestling, I got lazy on the edge of the mat, the kid takes a shot and I heard my knee pop, and I instantly knew something was wrong,” James said. “I was in pain. If you could see me you could have seen that I was in pain, and a lot of people saw that. I had to be wheelchaired out of there, and when I saw my knee swell up and I couldn’t walk out of there, I knew something was wrong.”
The knee injury still bothers James, who returned for the start of the 2017-18 season, but he pushes past the discomfort, telling himself that he’s “hurting, not injured.” He also has been training more like a heavyweight, allowing himself to be a true 285-pounder and not cutting weight relentlessly.
James has also gotten back to pressing the action. Instead of taking the defensive route — which he said stuck him in “sticky situations” last season — he’s learned to move more offensively.
“If I go out there offensive, work on the moves I know that I can work and have faith in my moves and commit to them, it works for me,” James said. “Earlier in the season I was coming out there slow, just trying to muscle kids over. But when you really tie the technique over into things that come naturally, like strength and speed, it all just works out.”
HERSHEY — It had been a tough three days for Boiling Springs leading up to the PIAA Class 2A third-place semifinals at Giant Center.
HERSHEY — The crown was Bishop McDevitt’s to defend.
He is an example of a team-wide return to the ranks of the healthy, which led to a District 3 Class 2A title and a Top 6 finish at the PIAA Class 2A team tournament.
James’ injury-free season has also led to more success. He was 0-6 in 2015-16 and 9-13 last season. But this year he’s 22-8 with a potentially length individual postseason run ahead.
The District 3 Class 2A Section II tournament starts Saturday morning at CD East High School. Ranked No. 2 in his weight class, James is more confident in himself than ever.
But don’t call him cocky.
“I see myself among the best. I don’t want to be cocky and I don’t want to go out here and just say, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m the best.’ I don’t want to be that kid,” James said. “I like to say I’m confident, not cocky. I believe in myself and that’s something that’s been instilled in me since I was little.
“If you believe in yourself and you have the right mindset, you can go out there and achieve things that you couldn’t even imagine.”