EDWARDSVILLE — Blake Blair was awestruck the first time he attended the Illinois High School Association state wrestling tournament in Champaign.
Especially when it came time for the Grand March.
"I've been to every state tournament since my freshman year and I remember sitting there with my friends when they turned out the lights in the Assembly Hall, the music began and the finalists marched in through the tunnel,'' Edwardsville's Blair recalled earlier this week. "I got the chills. It was neat.''
Last year Blair, one of the top Class 3A 195-pound wrestlers in the state, was part of the Grand March. And while he lost his state title match 3-0 to Lockport's Brad Johnson, having the opportunity to walk in before thousands of wrestling fans, was a moving experience.
So much so Blair wants to do it again.
Currently the No. 2 ranked Class 3A 195 pounder by Illinois Best Weekly, Blair will begin his march toward that elusive state title on Saturday, when he competes in the Class 3A Granite City Regional.
Blair will take a 39-2 record into the tournament and with his next win will break the Edwardsville High School record for most career wins with 146. Blair is tied with former Tigers great Derek Baugh, a 1991 graduate, at 145.
"I've never met him (Baugh). But I've heard about him,'' Blair said. "It (the record) isn't something I've thought a lot about. I knew coming in to this year that if I had a good season, that I had a chance to break it. I knew I was getting close.''
Edwardsville coach Jon Wagner is impressed by what the senior has accomplished in his four years. In addition to competing in the Southwestern Conference, Edwardsville wrestles an elite tournament schedule that includes two of the top prep tournaments in the Midwest -- the Dvorak Tournament at Harlem High School in Machesney Park and the Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, Wis. -- each year.
"The record has been there for a long time,'' Wagner said. "As far as Blake, our schedule isn't easy, not that it ever was.
"But we have a very tough schedule now and to go through that without any major injuries and to wrestle pretty much all the time is almost as impressive as the wins alone.''
Both of Blair's losses have come against Plainfield Central's Jordan Ellingwood , who is 35-0 and ranked first in the 195-pound division. Ellingwood's victories came at the Dvorak and Cheesehead tournaments.
"It's been a good year. Obviously, those are the two matches I would like to have back,'' Blair said. "The guy from Plainfield Central (Ellingwood) is very good on his feet. But, top or bottom, I have had a pretty easy time getting away from him. I probably need to ride him a little more.
"If I'm going to win a match with him, I need to stop one of his takedowns, get one of my own and ride him more than I have in the last couple of matches.''
Whether or not Blair wins the state title, his future is promising.
He already has committed to attend the University of North Carolina on a wrestling scholarship.
Coached by Carey Kolat and C.D. Mock, the Tar Heels are in the process of building a successful program.
"It's a program that the coaches are hoping to build into the pinnacle of southern wrestling,'' Blair said. "It's a program which is on the rise and I'm looking forward to being a part of that.
"When I went down there for my visit, they just made me feel like one of the group. The coaches and the facilities are just incredible. I don't know what weight I'll be at. I'm thinking maybe 197, but I could down to 184. We'll just have to wait and see.''
The Tar Heels are getting one of the most competitive wrestlers in recent Edwardsville history, Wagner said.
"Blake has a tremendous will to win. I mean he's got good technique and he's very powerful and very forceful. But I think he has a true will to win,'' Wagner said.
"He finds a way lot of the time. He might beat you with a leg attack. He might beat you with a front headlock and he can wrestle from all three positions -- up, down and neutral. A lot of big guys can't.''