The senior said wrestling has helped him become an all-around better person.
What can wrestling do for a person?
If you are Jamal Aoudi, it can change everything.
Aoudi, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High, started wrestling as a freshman. At the time, the 5-foot-6 Aoudi weighed 190 pounds. Aoudi said he got tired of how he looked and felt and decided something had to be done. Aoudi said he was intrigued by wrestling's physicality, so he tried out for the team.
"I wanted to change myself physically and mentally," Aoudi said. "Eventually, I did."
While it took Aoudi a while to get the technical side of the sport down, he said he started noticing changes immediately. He began shedding weight and turning it into muscle. As soon as he started to see results, he was all-in. He changed his diet: Low carbs, low sugars, high protein, low calories. He would lift in the morning before school and work on his cardio at night. He became more confident in himself, he said. He learned about commitment, about the perseverance required to achieve lofty goals.
Now, Aoudi wrestles at 138 pounds. Mustangs coach Pat Ancil said Aoudi is one of the fittest members of the team, and one of the hardest-working in the weight room, evident in his results. Ancil said as good of a wrestler as Aoudi is, he is an even better young man, respectful of others and a great example for the team's younger wrestlers to follow.
I spoke to Aoudi at the program's Senior Night duals meet against Sarasota Military Academy on Jan. 30, where Aoudi and 10 others were honored for their years of dedication to building the program. The Mustangs won the meet 48-24. They have several wrestlers who are capable of heading deep into the postseason, including fellow seniors Brandon Herten, Angelo LaFrese and Colby Keane, a trio that dominated its opponents. It was an impressive display of speed and power, especially from Herten, who at one point took an opponent down like a rhinoceros, hitting him shoulder-to-gut and sweeping his legs.
As the district meet approaches (Feb. 21 at Riverview High), those wrestlers have a chance to do something special. They also have a chance to set the program's duals wins record. The win over SMA gave them 33; the record is 34, with three dual meets to go.
Even if they don't break the record, or do well in the postseason, their lives have changed trajectories because of sports. Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that why we do this ... any of this? Why would athletes dedicate so much time to something if there was nothing to learn?
Aoudi may or may not do well in the postseason. He may or may not wrestle after high school. Ultimately, is it really important? The sport helped him get to where he is.
"I'm all-around a better man," Aoudi said. "I have never been in this kind of shape in my life, and thanks to this sport, every time I have a goal to do something, I strive to achieve it. I will never give up again."