Fabian Wickham isn’t the typical 106-pound wrestler.
He’s long and lean, with a wingspan that always poses problems for his routinely shorter opponents.
He’s a senior, which gives him a level of experience not usually seen in the state’s lowest weight class.
And unlike some star grapplers, he’s at ease showing off a personality his head coach calls “larger than life.”
No, you won’t find a lot of wrestlers like Wickham in his weight class. But his unique traits just happen to be big reasons why he’s the ringleader of a strong Eastmont senior class, undefeated this season, and considered the best 106-pounder in the entire state by WashingtonWrestlingReport.com.
4A district wrestling tournament
10 a.m. Saturday
“We’ve had kids that have been titans on the mat (at Eastmont), but when it comes to the total package, no one compares to him,” says Eastmont head coach Ken Hoyt. “No one has been better to be around or work with. Character, personality, hard work — yep, he would be the top. He would beat a state champion.”
Wickham already is a two-time third-place state finisher, but he’s poised for a run at his own state title this season. That run will start Saturday, when the postseason kicks off at Eastmont with the 4A district tournament.
“That’s one of the main reasons why I’m still learning, working on my weights, eating healthy,” Wickham says of his championship aspirations.
Wrestling is ingrained in Wickham, and the credit for that can easily be pinpointed to Hugh Chang, his stepfather and an assistant coach with the Wildcats.
“My dad used to wrestle in high school and college, and I’ve been wrestling since I was five years old. He’s always been a coach to me,” Wickham says.
Wickham and Chang spar regularly at Wildcats practices, and they appear to be cut from the same cloth.
“He wrestles like me, but I think he’s picked up a lot more than me,” Chang says. “He’s had a lot more mat time than me, though, because I didn’t start wrestling until seventh grade.”
“Everything I have came from (Chang), though obviously I developed my own style,” Wickham says. “’I’m pretty laid back. I kinda wait and pick apart every thing (opponents) do wrong before I attack. I would say I’m probably pretty smart, technical.”
Chang says it was easy to see early on that Wickham had a gift on the mat.
“At age six, I was like, ‘Man.’ His body movement was just right, and he was putting his body in its right place, putting the kids right where he needs them to be,” he said. “He was quicker and more balanced than most kids.”
Wickham amassed an impressive record in elementary and middle school, placing high in regional and national tournaments, and his reputation preceded his career at Eastmont High School.
“When I was younger they would have Mat Cat nights, and I would watch and stay after (the high school matches),” Wickham says. “Coach Hoyt would always ask me, ‘How much longer until you’re in high school?’”
Hoyt remembers anticipating Wickham’s arrival in the Eastmont wrestling room.
“I used to be at the youth wrestling (events), and a coach would be a fool not to look forward to having him. … (But) it’s hard to say what impressed us other than he liked the sport of wrestling.”
Wickham’s character may have had something to do with it.
“His personality really is larger than life. He’s so charismatic — people are drawn to him,” Hoyt says. “He has a real even-keel package, except when it comes to his personality, which is huge, and his wrestling ability, which is huge.”
Dedicated to excellence
It takes some work for a 5-foot-8 high school senior to keep his weight down to 106 pounds — not that Wickham would let on as much.
“I’ve been small my whole life, so it’s not too bad,” he says. “I’ll just watch what I eat. (Before the season) I walked in at probably 110 pounds, but I knew I just needed to relax. Over summer I started working out a lot and gained a lot of muscle, so I knew I was gonna get bigger.”
Hoyt says he’s also been helped out by his genes.
“It’s taken a lot of discipline (to stay at 106), but genetics have also worked in his favor,” he said. “He has a real nice athletic build. He’s slender and rather tall for his weight. That’s why he’s had that success.”
Wickham’s length and experience has been a riddle that no other 106-pounder has solved this season.
“I think he has really good skill and a lot of mat time behind him, and he’s a senior. He’s a lot taller than most 106ers,” Chang says.
“He’s gotten stronger and put the time in on the weights,” Hoyt says. “He has that extra wingspan, and I think only a couple kids in the state have his type of strength level. Not a lot of kids have that total package like him.”
Wickham doesn’t concern himself too much with his unblemished 2012-13 record.
“I just wrestle how I know how,” he said. “You can’t go into the season worrying about wins and losses, and I didn’t want that weight on my shoulders. I just wanted to wrestle the way I know how to wrestle, and it’s working out — really good.”
He doesn’t expect his undefeated record to impress his opponents, either.
“As you can see, I have a black eye, so obviously they’re not scared by any means,” Wickham said a few days after the Dream Duals at East Valley of Spokane.
As important as a state title would be to Wickham, he’s hoping he will also grab the attention of colleges at the upcoming Mat Classic state tournament in Tacoma. It will take another type of discipline for him to make the leap, however — the lowest weight class in college is 125 pounds.
“I sure hope so,” Wickham said in response to a potential college career. “College wrestling is a lot different than high school, so I definitely need to learn how and get bigger. If I were to go to college I’d probably redshirt a year and learn the fundamentals.”
But for now, he’s doing just fine in the Wildcats’ red and blue.
“He’s doing really, really good,” Chang says. “This year is his time.”