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Hartselle eighth-grader caps first season with state championship

Imagine being a high school state wrestling champion before taking your first high school class. For Hartselle eighth-grader Lincoln Bryant, it happened earlier this year. 

Bryant won the 6A, 120-pound state championship by defeating Melton Powe of Gardendale in a 10-5 decision. His win gave Hartselle an individual state champion for the first time since 2013. 

His march to the state championship started, however, with a loss in late January. He lost to Cory Lands of Moody High School by pinfall in a tournament at Mortimer Jordan. Lands is one of the best young wrestlers in not only Alabama but the United States. 

Bryant’s coach Joe Stephenson said even in the loss, Lincoln found out that he could wrestle with best. After the loss, I saw his confidence begin to grow.” Bryant next reeled off eight wins, marred by only one loss, on his way to the state championship. He finished the season with 42 wins and nine losses. 

“It’s an honor to get to represent my school and my team,” said Bryant. 

“It’s hard to put these special moments in words. It means the world to me to see him accomplish his goals,” added his father, John Bryant. “It’s something as a parent that you never forget – the tears rolling down his facethe pure happiness in his eyes when leaving the mat that day. It is a special moment that will never be forgotten.” 

The young state champ got his start in wrestling when he was 8 years. He said a friend’s dad introduced him to the sport, and from there his passion for it started to grow. “I like the intensity and how it’s an individual sport,” Bryant said. “Once I learn where my strengths and weaknesses are, I can work to improve. I like how this sport challenges me every day to be a better athlete.” 

Before his championship season, however, Bryant said he was on the verge of giving up the sport because his heart wasn’t in it – but his father kept encouraging him to continue. “Becoming a state champion this year allowed me to see in myself what he’s always seen in me,” said Bryant. 

Bryant made a lot of sacrifices average eighthgraders don’t usually make – sacrifices he had to make to prepare for reaching his goal. He would practice every day and then come home and run two to three miles. He also had to ensure he met his weight goals by focusing on a strict diet. 

Bryant said he plans to continue working hard once he gets to high school later this year. His personal goal? To be a five-time state champion. Stephenson said there have only been a couple of five-time champions in Alabama, and Bryant has a chance to join that group. 

“I hope I can inspire other athletes,” added Bryant. “It doesn’t matter how old you are; if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.”