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Colton Rowe excelled at three sports while at Huntingtown High School, but he will now be focusing on wrestling after recently signing to NAIA’s West Virginia Institute of Technology for an athletic scholarship.

“Very exciting,” Rowe said after a small signing ceremony at Huntingtown. “No, [I never thought this day would come]. I had no intentions of wrestling in college.”

Rowe, who also played varsity football and lacrosse at Huntingtown, said he really thought he could be a collegiate wrestler after meeting Golden Bears coach Sam Gardner at a wrestling tournament at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“I just never thought of going to college and wrestling,” Rowe said. “When I first met coach Gardner [was when I thought I could wrestle in college]. And I was pretty excited because [the school’s in Montgomery, W.Va.], which is the town where my grandparents live and my father lives. It really was [a coincidence].”

Rowe also considered football offers — he was a three-year varsity fullback/linebacker — from Virginia’s Shenandoah University and Salisbury University, while Limestone (S.C.) pursued him for lacrosse, a sport where Rowe was a three-year varsity midfielder.

“That’s one thing I’ve enjoyed about him is he’s a kid who knows what he wants and where he wants to go,” Huntingtown head wrestling coach Kevin Gilligan said of his first collegiate signing. “He could have been successful in anything he chose, but wrestling may fit him better because of his size.”

But growing up, tumbling around on the mat was his third favorite sport.

“Yeah, it was tough because, of the three, wrestling as my least favorite,” he said. “[That was] just because my first years I didn’t really have that much fun, though my last two were.”

That fun came to a head his junior year, when Rowe placed fifth at the Class 4A-3A state tournament after placing second at the 4A-3A South Region tournament.

Last season, Rowe was the SMAC and 4A-3A South Region 152-pound champion and finished his career with a third-place showing at the 4A-3A state tournament.

“It was unreal,” he said. “I knew I could place [at states], but I had to do it. My older brother Hunter did the same [in 2010 at 160 pounds].”

Wrestling between the 135- and 160-pound weight classes, Rowe compiled at least 27 wins each year with a career-high 40 his junior season.

He recorded 37 this past season and is No. 1 on Huntingtown’s all-time list with 134 victories. Daniel Justice is second with 112.

“His attitude, he’s got that mentality, and to be a good wrestler, you have to have that and Colton has that,” Gilligan said of the key behind Rowe’s success. “It’s hard to say exactly what it is [that makes him so good], but he hates to lose in a sport where you’re out there one-on-one and need to out-work everybody. He possesses all those qualities that make a great wrestler, and that’s what makes him so good. And he sticks to the basics; he’s not flashy, he’s a brawler and brawlers are fun to coach.”

Rowe will join a Golden Bears program that will begin its second year of wrestling in 2013-14.

“Sam’s a good guy, and I think he’s going to get the best out of him,” Gilligan said. “I think it’s great Colton’s going to a program that’s new. There’s a lot of excitement, and he’s going to get to grow in that program as the program continues to grow. I think it’s a good fit and he’ll do well there.”

In its first season, the Golden Bears were 2-1 and placed in the top three in two of five tournaments.

Rowe, who doesn’t know yet which weight class he will be competing in, said he wants to be an All-American at the NAIA nationals his freshman season.

“Hard work and dedication and training,” Rowe said when asked how he would achieve his lofty goals. “That’s all I’m looking forward to is just working. Just wherever they need me, I don’t care [what weight class] really.”

Gilligan said Rowe still has plenty of untapped potential.

“He hasn’t peaked yet; he’s nowhere near peaking, and that’s the exciting thing where you get a kid who is going on to college and they haven’t hit their peak in high school,” Gilligan said. “Colton’s the type of kid who, once he gets to college, he’s going to elevate. His work ethic’s there, his discipline, his dedication’s there, and he’s got aspirations now that he wants to be an All-American in college. And that’s a great goal to have, and the fact he’s not even peaking yet and to see what his ability’s going to be once he’s done. I’ve seen a lot of kids elevate once they get into a college room, and it’s incredible. And Colton is going to be one of them.”

Rowe estimated he knows 20 moves inside and out, and said the secret to being a good grappler is dedication.

“Hard work and dedication and training,” Rowe said. “That’s all I’m looking forward to is just working. [High school’s] been great. I’ve always seemed to be successful, and it’s been awesome. I’ve worked hard all my life, and it’s showing now and it’s fun.

Gilligan couldn’t say enough good things about the future Golden Bear.

“He’s a great kid, he has his head on straight and you can’t say that about a whole lot of kids,” Gilligan said, “but he’s one of them you can.”

mreid@somdnews.com