Sprawled on all fours, gassed from having wrestled seven deadlocked minutes with the defending state heavyweight champion, Foothill High School senior Michael Lowman said to himself: "This is it."
Lowman, the state's third-ranked 285-pounder, had taken top-ranked Nick Nevills of Clovis into overtime of the semifinals at the CIF State Championship meet at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena on March 3.
With five other matches taking place simultaneously, all eyes seemed to be on Lowman and Nevills on Mat 5. The crowd oohed, ahhed and gasped with every move.
"I'm thinking, 'Go for it now, or lose,' " Lowman said.
He began the double-overtime period in the down position with the hulking Nevills on top controlling one arm. Lowman then hit a "switch" raising the arm Nevills was grasping, rolling out of it to a sitting position and gaining control earning him the decisive two points for a reversal. After riding out the final 30 seconds Lowman handed Nevills, only a sophomore, his first high school loss.
When Lowman (47-3) finished runner-up in the state championship match, his efforts this season earned him The Bee's Wrestler of the Year honors.
"It was an incredible run for him," Foothill coach Bill Lum said. "He kept exceeding what people thought of him."
But to comprehend the accomplishment and its significance, it is first necessary to grasp Lowman's background, and his view of himself.
"I see myself as the underdog no one expects me to do anything," said Lowman, the first Foothill wrestler to place in the state meet. "I'm out to show people that I'm not the worst, and if you catch me on the right day, I can beat anybody."
Many high school wrestlers who reach the final day of the season the top 4 percent in California have been wrestling since middle school, if not earlier.
What's more, those wrestlers are often trained in feeder programs similar to youth football that begin as early as first grade, learning from the same coaches they will have in high school.
That applies to Nevills, who comes from a wrestling family, and state champion Johnny Schupp of Vacaville, who pinned Lowman at the Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis in January and during their state championship match.
Lowman began wrestling in high school. Foothill is just now establishing its feeder program through Foothill Ranch Middle School.
"That gives me the drive to let people know that my coaches are some of the best around," Lowman said. "Through me, I feel like I can help people see that coach Lum and coach (Bret) Friend are good coaches; they just don't get recognized the way they should."
After playing on the junior varsity football team as a freshman, Lowman was approached by a coach with an ultimatum: If he hoped to play football as a sophomore, Lowman would have to wrestle. With no experience but eager to satisfy his coach, Lowman obliged. Despite enjoying the new sport immediately, success came slowly.
"He was a big, goofy, uncoordinated guy," teammate Alden Bradley said. "His first year, he made a lot of mistakes and lost a lot of matches that he probably shouldn't have."
Lowman returned for his sophomore year with a renewed vigor. A strong showing at an early-season tournament was the turning point.
"That's when everyone started taking him seriously," Bradley said.
As his stature in the wrestling community continued to grow, so too did his presence on the Foothill Farms campus.
Standing 6-foot-8, Lowman is hard to miss even in a crowd of 1,500 students. It's not his size that those who first meet him notice it's his smile.
"He's a big teddy bear," Bradley said. "He knows everybody and everybody loves him."
Lowman qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet that sophomore season, going 2-2. He placed third as a junior and qualified for the state championships, where he was 2-2 before suffering a leg injury.
This season, he ran roughshod through the area's heavyweights, winning four regular-season tournaments, including the Foothill-hosted Tim Brown Memorial for a second consecutive year.
"Even at this level, he's 100 percent coachable," Friend said. "That's what makes him so good he does whatever we ask him to do."