Last December, Dillon Creed was cruising through the Demon Classic wrestling tournament at Lugoff Elgin High School. As he expected, he found himself in the semifinals with a real shot at winning the competition.
That's when the Indian Land junior, now a senior, knew something was wrong.
"My knee just popped," Creed said. "Right when it happened I knew what was going on. I had to block it out and finish the match."
Creed won the match, went on to the final, and claimed the title. He won the tournament, but it was the last match he would wrestle that season. After the tournament, Creed went to the hospital to have an MRI done. Doctors told him he had a torn meniscus, cartilage that serves as protection for the knee joint. It required surgery and a three-month rehab, Dillon said.
The torn meniscus was not new, either. It was the same injury that ended his season the year before.
"It was heartbreaking. It felt like all the work I had done had gone to waste," Dillon said about his second straight season coming to an early end.
Creed is returning to the Lugoff Elgin tournament as the defending champion of his weight class, with a knee he says feels "as good as new" and an undefeated record.
"I'm right where I want to be," he said.
Creed is an impressive 11-0 this year going into the Demon Classic, with wins over wrestlers from powerhouse teams, including Chesterfield and Rock Hill. He said he doesn't plan on stopping until he reaches the state title match.
"My goal is to win the state title," Creed said. "For right now, I just have to keep working on what I'm doing - getting mat time."
And his coaches think he can do it.
"We think he would have qualified for the state championships the last two years, hands down," assistant coach Herb Johnson said.
Johnson said Creed has impressed him repeatedly with the amount of conditioning and training he has done, especially while rehabbing the injuries.
"He keeps training hard - keeps that goal focused. He knows what he has to do and how to do it," Johnson said.
Creed actually grew up playing baseball before he got into wrestling. He plays center field on the Warriors' baseball team in the spring, but needed a sport to keep him in shape during the off-season, he said. Creed's younger brother Logan had been wrestling on a club team since elementary school.
"I saw him rolling around on the mats with those guys," Creed said.
"I'm pretty physical; I thought I'd be good at it."
Logan, a freshman on the Indian Land wrestling team this year, said even though he has been wrestling from a young age, he learns a lot from his brother.
"[Dillon] is really good at teaching the young guys. He has some of the best techniques," Logan said. "He's a great leader by example."
That leadership role is something Creed has embraced as a senior.
"I like being vocal, helping the younger guys out," Creed said. "I think about what the young guys would think if I mess up, so I try to set a good example."
In the six years Creed has been a wrestler (he started in seventh grade) he said the change has been obvious, both in his wrestling technique and in his personality in the ring.
"It really teaches you respect for the person across from you," Creed said.
Creed's season so far includes 11 wins and the tournament title from the Warrior Invitational in early December, a competition that included 16 teams. Creed also took the Most Outstanding Wrestler award from that tournament.
With his final year of high school halfway finished, Creed said he is thinking about the University of South Carolina as his college choice, but hasn't decided yet for sure. The question is, which sport would the two-sport athlete choose - wrestling or baseball?
"It's wrestling season right now. I like wrestling better," he said with a smirk.
Either way, Creed said he might just enjoy the college experience instead of competing on a collegiate team.
"That's the thing about Dillon," coach Johnson said. "He's a great student, too. He's a great leader on the wrestling mat and in the classroom."
The Warriors' wrestling season runs through the end of January. The state championships will be held at Lexington High School, Feb. 27-28.