On the first day of football practice in August, Blake Godsey noticed that there was something different about Richard Montgomery High School senior Thomas Fitzpatrick.
“I saw him come down to the field and I was like, 'Oh my God. Look at that beast.' He was huge,” said Godsey, who is the Rockets junior varsity football coach and Fitzpatrick's wrestling coach. “He looked exactly like [Rocky IV movie character] Ivan Drago.”
Fitzpatrick, a 220-pound chiseled football player and wrestler, spent the offseason recovering from a left knee injury — he partially tore his anterior cruciate ligament and completely tore the lateral meniscus — suffered during an offseason wrestling practice session.
During his rehabilitation, Fitzpatrick embarked on an aggressive weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise regimen — not just to recover — but to make himself bigger, stronger and faster.
“Starting late February , I was in the gym every single day. The injury just drove me to be better,” he said. “Worked on my leg, leg workouts, upper body, everything. ...
“I realized the only way to get better was to keep training. I had to work on [stamina] and now I believe I have the perfect balance of strength and endurance. That's a big part of my success.”
All the extra work has paid dividends. Fitzpatrick, no stranger to the sport, having wrestled since first grade for the Rockville Raptors youth team, has always been a strong wrestler — he was 24-10 last season. But this winter, Fitzpatrick has been one of the surprises on the county wrestling scene as a dominating force. He owns a perfect 39-0 record (33 victories coming by way of a first-period pin) and enters Friday and Saturday's Class 4A/3A West Region tournament at Sherwood as the No. 1 seed in his weight class.
During the county tournament last weekend, Fitzpatrick, who didn't place in the top 4 of a tournament until this season, cruised through his competition, recording four pins in a combined 2 minutes, 36 seconds to win a county championship. In the final bout, he pinned Wheaton's Tim Mallet in just 15 seconds.
“He's got some experience,” Godsey said. “But the big difference between this year and last year is the pure man strength. I mean, last year I could handle him. This year, everything we've taught him, he uses against us. He's the total package.”
Fitzpatrick, who has steadily grown up from the 160-pound weight class as a freshman, says he feels most natural on his feet and is the strongest from the neutral position. He does admit, however, he is slightly concerned — as competition improves at regionals and states — since his matches rarely last the full six minutes.
“I haven't had a lot of competition and haven't had someone go all three rounds to test my abilities,” he said. “We've been going to schools like Georgetown Prep and [Our Lady of] Good Counsel so I've been able to practice with some of the best from around this area.”