MOUNT AIRY — As a young child, even the sound of light rain tapping on the window would keep Earl Blake awake at night.
“I would be up at all hours,” the senior wrestler for Linganore High School said during a practice session Wednesday, three days before attempting to join one of the most exclusive clubs in Frederick County sports.
“I would eventually fall asleep around 4 a.m. I’d never really get worn out. But I am an early riser, too. I’d wake up around 6 or 7 a.m., and I would just want to go, go, go.”
In order to try and harness his incredible energy, Blake turned to wrestling at the age of 4. There was no real expectation of anything that was to come, and he certainly wasn’t preordained for greatness.
“In the junior league, he wasn’t anything special. I don’t ever think he won states in junior wrestling,” said Joey Bromley, his teammate and fellow state placewinner at Linganore. “But he’s worked his [butt] off, and it has paid off for him in high school.”
With four more victories and no losses this weekend at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Blake will become the fourth Frederick County wrestler to win three state championships.
Blake (41-0 this season, 154-12 overall at Linganore) is the prohibitive favorite in the Class 4A-3A 132-pound weight class this weekend, having cruised to the championship at 126 last season and stunned everyone in 2017 to win his first title in that same weight class.
“It’s a little bit of pressure but nothing I am not used to,” said Blake, who can join the esteemed company of Middletown’s Danny Bertoni (2014-17), Urbana’s Adam Krop (2008-10) and Catoctin’s Charlie Perella (2013-15) as county wrestlers to have won three state titles. Bertoni is the only wrestler to have won four.
“To me, it’s another match in a long season,” Blake continued. “That’s how you have to treat it.”
Blake announced his arrival as a big-time wrestler during the 2016 state tournament at The Show Place Arena.
He came in as a 26-8 freshman, just hoping to get on the awards podium. After pulling out a 7-4 decision over Atholton’s Willie Hampton in the opening round at 120 pounds, Blake earned a 14-6 major decision over Damascus’ T.J. Macklin in the quarterfinals. Momentum began to build quickly.
In the semifinals, Blake went to overtime before pinning Quince Orchard’s Antonio Lopez in 6 minutes, 40 seconds. It was the first display on that kind of stage of how hard Blake was willing to work to earn a victory.
That dramatic pin sent him somewhat unexpectedly into his first state final against North Hagerstown’s Brian Stuart, who simply outclassed Blake for an 8-1 victory in the championship match.
“Earl was a good kid, very explosive, a lot of raw talent that needed to have a little bit of polish to him,” said Ben Arneson, who was not yet Linganore’s head coach. “We had to go to work and see how shiny it would become.”
The setback to Stuart ignited a fire in Blake to make improvements and served as the backdrop for the most memorable victory of his career to date.
At 38-3 overall, Blake was back in a state final the following season against Stuart, this time at 126 pounds. Stuart was a nationally ranked wrestler trying to complete his second straight undefeated season.
Trailing 8-4 in the final minute of the third period, Blake went for broke, unleashing a flurry of offense that was again synonymous with his energy, work ethic and determination.
Blake scored two takedowns in the final 23 seconds against Stuart, who appeared hobbled by some sort of ankle injury, to force overtime and get the sizable crowd buzzing.
With tremendous support from wrestling fans eager to see a major upset, Blake scored an escape point in the second overtime and then rode out Stuart in the subsequent extra period for a sensational 10-9 victory.
The manner in which he won was not insignificant. Blake is an on-your-feet wrestler with few peers in the state. He lives for the takedowns. Very seldomly does he ride anyone out.
“We had a plan going into that match,” said Arneson, who was then a co-head coach at Linganore with Pete Riley. “We thought we were going to give up at least eight points. But we had to push the pace, find a way to get at least nine. We just wanted to outscore him.
“At regionals, Earl was really close to pulling it off [against Stuart]. But he went to his back, and he shouldn’t have. But we went back and looked at it and figured out where he made that mistake and made sure it didn’t happen again.”
Blake’s success is a by-product of his relentless energy and work ethic. After every match, he does at least 50 pushups. It’s not meant as a sign of disrespect to a vanquished opponent. Rather, it’s a reminder to Blake that no matter how hard he thinks he works, he can always give more.
“When somebody is tired in the room, you just look over at Earl, and he is still going,” said Linganore teammate Mike Bromley, who wrestled in his first state final last season at 170 pounds.
Blake can’t really explain where all of the energy comes from. It’s just the way he has always been.
He claims to get tired every so often. But few people have ever noticed it.
“My body shows it more than my mind,” said Blake, who will wrestle next season on a full Division I scholarship at Kent State University. “My mind doesn’t want to believe that I’m tired. But my body ... it takes its toll.
“Right now, I get tired whenever I stop moving. Whenever I step on the mat or am doing something, my mind takes over. ‘We are doing it. We are doing it.’ But, as soon as I stop moving, all of [the fatigue] floods in.”