Three points shy of a state championship has not deterred Anthony Bonner, even though it was his final chance to finish atop his weight class.
In fact, it provides added incentive after high school for the Pasquotank senior.
“It changes the plans,” Bonner said. “I’m probably going to join the military, so I can go to college. I’ll try to go to [Old Dominion] on a wrestling scholarship, so I can have more of an understanding of the pure art of wrestling.
“It doesn’t change my motivation where I still want to be the best at what I love. I just have to do something that puts me a cut above the rest.”
The 182-pounder’s determination this past season culminated in a 29-win slate and a Northeastern Coastal Conference tournament title.
Combine it with an inspired run to the 2A final at Greensboro Coliseum, and it made Bonner the choice as The Daily Advance’s Wrestler of the Year.
Admittedly trained more for jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts, Bonner has shown a knack to go at wrestling opponents by some unorthodox means. Despite the methods, no one dared question his toughness.
Case in point was the 2A state championship tournament. His right ear was hit hard during the first day of competition, and quickly it took on a life of its own.
“It looked like my face was having a baby,” an assistant coach described the situation to Bonner, who had to have fluid drained to ease the swelling and get new headgear.
Cauliflower ear and all, Bonner pressed on with two back-to-back one-point victories to survive and advance. He trudged on to the final against Tyrone Watson of North Brunswick, who was already 2-0 against Bonner before meeting up in Greensboro.
The third clash proved the toughest. Watson got the bout’s lone takedown while Bonner’s best shot was thwarted in the third period when his foe was able to rush outside of the circle.
“Me and him had the exact same style,” the 18-year-old said. “I was hoping I could take him into overtime, and I know I wanted it more if I pushed a little harder.”
Before his first match of 2016-17, his story was already one of the comeback variety.
Bonner was off the mat as a junior after he was caught with possession of marijuana at school.
To his credit, Bonner is not shy about admitting the wrongdoing. He was given community service and has put in hours at the SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina.
“You have to take responsibility for your mistakes,” Bonner said. “I didn’t say no to a situation I know was bad.”
His aim was to not only emerge stronger from the setback, but to bring in some friends to strengthen a Pasquotank program that was on hard times.
Both of those goals were achieved.
Two seasons removed from at best a three-wrestler roster, the Panthers earned enough points to claim the NCC tournament championship against perennial powers Currituck and First Flight.
“When I saw all of these people expect more from me, that’s why I feel like I couldn’t do enough for this school,” Bonner said.
When it came down to it, however, a light-hearted attitude was key to adding team depth as well as a new coach in Jonathan Sutton.
“I had fun with these guys, but when it comes to work, we didn’t stop,” Bonner said. “When it came down to it, we worked hard. But sometimes you got to have some smiles in there.”
While the season is complete, he’s not completely done with high school wrestling. Some national tournaments remain; that is, if Bonner can heal up fast enough from a left knee injury.
Odds say don’t count him out.
“It won’t stop me,” Bonner said.