"When you're on the mat. It's only you. Everything's on you."
Chris Fox, a wrestler on UCF's club team, may sit with his fellow wrestlers on the bench or during practice, but once it's his time to enter the ring, he's on his own.
UCF's wrestling program was the last Florida collegiate wrestling program to be dropped in 1986 after the program reached Division I status the year prior. Without an in-state program, Florida high school wrestlers were faced with the decision to either go out of state or forfeit their future in wrestling.
That all changed back in 2001 when the program was restarted, this time as a club sport.
Jason Balma, now the assistant coach for the team, was one of the wrestlers that started the program 14 years ago. Each year since then, their 40-wrestler roster has helped hundreds of Florida wrestlers stick close to home when they pursue a future in the historic sport.
Fox is one such Florida wrestler.
"After high school, there's no funded wrestling in Florida, so it gave me an option to stay in Florida and continue wrestling," said Fox, a spring 2014 graduate who is taking classes again at UCF specifically to wrestle with the team.
Since the team's 2001 relaunch, it has won three national titles — in 2004, 2005 and 2010 — and hopes to take home the national title again in March at the NCWA National Tournament in Allen, Texas. There are only two other meets until then — the Newberry College Open on Feb. 14 in Newberry, South Carolina, and the Southeast Conference Tournament to be held here at UCF on Feb. 28.
The team is led by coaching veteran JD Robbins, who previously coached locally at Oviedo High School, but also serves as a coach for USA Wrestling and on the selection committee for the 2016 Olympic wrestling team. Robbins, who trains the team in the USA Wrestling Southeast Regional Training Center in Winter Park, sets the team's skill level at a Division II.
"What we need to do to be successful and take home a national title this year is be consistent. We need to be wrestling our A-game the entire match," Robbins said. "I think we've got as much of a chance as any to win a national title this year."
What makes their team so formidable and competitive, Balma said, is the fact that a handful of the current wrestlers have hopes of earning All-American statuses.
"When you have guys who really should be an All-American this year but weren't previously, that makes for a dangerous team because they're going to go after it even more," Balma said.
For Fox, that All-American status was just within arms reach last year during the national tournament.
Needing to win only two more matches to reach the coveted All-American status, Fox beat his opponent in the final 10 seconds of the match, but went on to lose the next match, losing out on becoming an All-American.
"Within an hour span I had the biggest high I've had, and the biggest low," Fox said. "Wrestling does that to you sometimes."
While national titles and coveted All-American statuses may certainly be cherished takeaways from wrestlers' times with the team, the familial nature of the team is what some wrestlers have really cherished most.
"The No. 1 thing I'm going to take away is the UCF wrestling family," Fox said. "The teammates I've wrestled with will be friends for life. Me coming back for a fifth year speaks for what the team means to me."
Adam Rhodes is the Entertainment Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @byadamrhodes or email him at AdamR@CentralFloridaFuture.com.