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Zach Cotton might have dropped nearly 100 pounds in the past year, but the only TV show he would ever make is “The Biggest Winner.”
It makes little difference if he wins the heavyweight championship at this week's state wrestling tournament or even medals. Just being there after two years away from the sport puts the Anderson County High School senior among the class of the most successful.
During Saturday's Region 2 Tournament at Central Hardin High School, Cotton stunned LaRue County's B. J. Carman n the semifinals before being pinned by North Hardin's Aaron House in the final.
In the regional semifinal, Cotton pinned Carman in quick fashion, then joined Anderson coach Tom Castle in a wild celebration.
“He had never been pinned before,” Cotton said with a huge smile. “That was the happiest I have been.”
It happened because Cotton, Anderson's only senior wrestler, made it happen.
“He did what he had to do because he wanted to wrestle again” says Anderson County wrestling coach Tom Castle.
What the personable senior did was overcome two years of health concerns that kept Cotton, once a promising grappler and football player, away from the mat. First it was a serious bout with asthma.
“I have had that since I was born but the lung specialist wanted to make sure it was not caused by anxiety attacks,” Cotton says.
The word came down late in the 2008 football season. Scratch the playoffs. Scratch wrestling. Just make sure that breathing was no longer an issue.
Fast forward a year. The asthma problem under control, but something else was now the problem.
“I am not supposed to weigh 350 pounds,” the 5-foot-11 Cotton says with a smile.
It might have only been a conditioning issue in football, but wrestling, where the weight scale tops out at 285 pounds is another story. And Saturday, when Cotton needed just 62 seconds to pin LaRue County's Carman in the semi-finals of the heavyweight class, Cotton clinched his return to the state after two years..
Later on Saturday, Cotton suffered the same fate, getting pinned by North Hardin's undefeated Aaron House with 44 seconds left in the final. However, the top four wrestlers from the region advance to the state. Cotton will be a two-seed when the tournament gets underway at the Frankfort Convention Center on Thursday.
Had Cotton defeated House, it would have given Anderson County a third-place finish in the team standings.
He says there was no added pressure. “God can give you a peace of mind knowing you do your best.”
It is spoken with both the ethos of wrestling that expects one to leave that last bit of energy inside the circle, but combines with a deep Christian faith that Cotton lives.
It is just part of Cotton's nature. But without the major lifestyle changes, there would be no joy of making the state. There would be no chance of scoring the improbable pin.
Cotton's diet changed. He hoofed his way around Anderson County Community Park daily, combining running and walking for at least three miles a day. Farmers around Alton, where he lives, called upon Cotton to help put in hay. He lifted weights some but the field work is what he remembers.
“I worked in a lot of hay,” Cotton laughs. “There is weight lifting strength and there is farm boy strength. The farm boy strength lasts a lot longer.”
And the weight, more than 80 pounds came off. “I lost 11 pant sizes,” Cotton smiles.
And those who have gone against Zach Cotton on the wrestling mat in 2011 have paid the price.
He's become one of Kentucky's better wrestlers. A stellar student, Cotton was named Mr. Anderson out of the Anderson County class of 2011.
It is an award based on academics and character and is voted upon by faculty.
He's Mr. Anderson off the playing surface.
On the mat? He's the same, with one minor twist.
“I am a head-hunter,” he laughs. “If I can get them on the mat, they are not coming up.”