There was a point in time where Marlin Whyte didn’t take wrestling seriously.
He began competing in the sport as an eighth grader at the club level. But to him, it was just something to do. He never imagined how far it could take him.
He continued to wrestle as a freshman and sophomore at Mountain Pointe. Yet again, he was casual about it. But it was at that time he had coaches who saw his potential. They believed he could be a winner, a champion.
So, as a junior, he finally took it seriously. Now as he wraps up his senior year of high school, he does so as Mountain Pointe’s first state champion on the mat since 1992.
“It feels good,” Whyte said. “It sort of shows how good the wrestling program actually is. We don’t have big numbers so it’s nice to show these guys work hard.”
The road to becoming a champion wasn’t easy for Whyte. He dealt with his own self-doubt, on several occasions thinking about dropping the sport altogether.
He kept pushing through, however. Those negative thoughts motivated him.
Not only did he aim to prove those around him wrong, but he wanted to prove himself wrong, too.
“I knew I had to prove myself wrong,” Whyte said. “I don’t like doubters. So if I’m doing that to myself, I have to prove myself wrong to prove other people wrong.”
Mountain Pointe coach Mark Caliendo, who retired from coaching after the state meet this year but plans to remain with the program in some capacity, saw the potential in Whyte early on.
He was naturally gifted with a solid frame, he just had to put in the work in the weight room to put his body into wrestling shape. Especially after his sophomore year, that’s what Whyte did.
His coaches, Caliendo included, took notice in the shift in his mindset. Whyte was more motivated than ever to be successful, and part of that came from his newfound love of freestyle and greco roman wrestling, which he learned from Tanner Borneman, a local club coach that joined the Mountain Pointe staff.
Caliendo said Borneman was key in Whyte’s transformation into a champion.
“His first year of freestyle and greco roman he was a state champion for us, and he became our first Mountain Pointe, under our club, state champion ever,” Caliendo said. “Tanner was able to come in and see all the things these kids did, especially Marlin.
“He broke him down and built him back up. From that point on it was constant progression.”
As a junior, with a new arsenal of skills, Whyte excelled.
Caliendo said he would often have opposing coaches come up to him and ask about Whyte. The most common question was, “Where did he come from?”
Whyte didn’t have many opportunities before his junior season to wrestle at the varsity level. Most of that was his own self doing by not taking the sport seriously. But he showed in his junior year just how good he can be.
Then, injuries got in the way.
Like any athlete, Whyte tried to wrestle through his nagging injuries. His arms ached and his knees were sore. By the time the end of the season rolled around, and it was nearing the state tournament, Whyte’s knee had gotten so bad he had to bow out. The lit an even bigger fire under him and set the stage for what was a dominant senior campaign.
“Come my senior year I was smart with injuries,” Whyte said. “I played it safe and wrestled as much as I could.”
Whyte’s only losses this past season came to former or current state champions, some at different weight classes. He dropped down from 175 to 165 this season. In his mind, it was a new challenge.
One of the few matches he lost early on was to Horizon’s Aiden Larsen. But Whyte redeemed himself later on in the postseason.
The two were on a collision course yet again for the 165-pound Division II state title. It was a highly anticipated match, but one that Whyte won with ease. He held a large lead in points before pinning Larsen late in the match.
It was at that point Whyte made history, and all of his hard work to get to that point was worth it.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Whyte said. “I always knew I was going to do it, but when it happened, it was like, ‘Oh my God, I did it.’ Seeing everyone cheering for me was nice.”
Whyte hopes to continue wrestling now that his high school career is over. Caliendo said he’s received calls about him from schools.
But for now, Whyte continues to enjoy his championship. He said it still doesn’t feel real at times.
“I don’t think it ever will (set in),” Whyte said. “It’s just good to see the work paid off. All the hours I put into me, and people put into me, it paid off.”
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