Overlea High School sophomore wrestler Marcus Chase, a novice who began the year on the Falcons' junior varsity team only to be called up to the varsity level in late December and help Overlea beat Eastern Tech for the first time in two decades, was named the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month for February.
Chase was nominated for the award by Overlea athletic director Bruce Malinowski and head wrestling coach Craig Rollins.
"It warms my heart to be able to show a young man how much an old coach appreciates his dedication, his want-to, his drive," Rollins said. "... There's so much entertainment distractions out there, so to see a young man do things an old-school way and come to practice on time and listen and work hard and … to keep pushing no matter what, and to be able to step up to a challenge and to a task that a coach has asked him to do with no experience, it meant a lot to me."
Rollins, who doubles as Overlea's head football coach, encouraged Chase to give wrestling a try before the season. Chase, who was a cornerback on Overlea's JV football team the past two years, accepted Rollins' invitation. But it wasn't the first time he had thought about wrestling; his uncle wrestled in the past and suggested the sport to him, and his cousin wrestles.
Rollins sold wrestling to Chase by telling him how it would improve his endurance, willpower, focus, technique, explosion and strength on the gridiron. Chase immediately took to the sport.
"My first experiences, I liked it because it shows how hard you have to work," Chase said. "You have to put in the work by yourself in order to get good outcomes because at the end of the day, it's a team sport but individually in order for you to win, you've got to know what you're doing out there on the mat."
Chase was told by his coaches that an opportunity could present itself on the varsity team if he could manage his weight in such a way that he could compete in the 113-pound class. Chase got the call after Christmas just before the Falcons took on Eastern Tech, a team Overlea hadn't beaten in 20 years.
Chase pinned his opponent toward the end of the second period to win his match and contribute to Overlea's victory.
"Going against Eastern Tech, I was actually nervous because of the record they had against us for the past 20 years. I'm going to tell the truth: I wasn't confident about myself going out there versus whoever I had to wrestle," Chase said. "But once I went out there, I just started wrestling, and I started to calm down a little bit once I started scoring on the person I was wrestling and everything and I pinned him."
Before calling Chase up to the varsity level, Rollins said he noticed him picking up new moves and displaying a "keen ear to the coaches' voices. He was listening and he was working." Chase credited coaches and teammates for helping him pick up the nuances of wrestling, and now he describes himself as a "defense wrestler" who waits for his opponent to make a move "and then I'll just counter off of that."
One of the most challenging aspects of wrestling for Chase was keeping a close eye on his weight to make sure he could compete in the 113-pound class.
"To be disciplined enough to do what he needed to do to make sure he makes weight, it was awesome for a first-year wrestler," Rollins said. "It's difficult ... when you wrestle varsity for the first time, and you really don't have any experience, no know-how, no technique, and you've got to monitor your diet and you've got to be dedicated, keep your grades up."
Chase, who has a 3.2 GPA at Overlea, also runs track, and the three-sport athlete is "definitely one of the shining stars of the future" on the wrestling mat, per Rollins, whose team took big strides during the 2018-19 season.
"I'm glad that I joined in at the time that I did," Chase said.