Mikell Washington reaped the rewards for his success on the wrestling mat.

A senior captain for the Staples wrestling team, Washington received the Block S Team MVP award at the team's banquet Sunday.

"It feels really good," Washington said. "It's another thing to show that my hard work paid off."

Washington earned it by going 27-0 in the regular season in the 195-pound weight class and finishing third at FCIACs, Class LL and State Open. He was also the Fairfield Ludlowe tournament champion, and finished the season with an overall record of 39-5.

"His dedication was the difference," Wreckers head coach Kevin Lippert said. "He made sure he took care of his grades and wrestling this year, and found a style that worked well for him. I couldn't use the style he uses. He was focused, and did well this year."

Washington worked well on his feet, and usually waited for an opening before making his move.

"Two words describes my success, [Staples assistant coach] Jeff Lauzon," Washington said. "In the offseason, Jeff was there every day and told us, `summer wrestling makes winter champions.' I never worked this hard over the summer, and I don't regret it for anything. If you want to win, you have to make sacrifices."

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Washington worked on his wrestling skills under Lauzon's tutelage through Monstarz Wrestling Club at Bedford Middle School during the offseason.

"Mikell absorbed what I taught him by working extremely hard," Lauzon said. "He put in countless hours watching wrestling footage and worked on his moves. He's a student of wrestling."

The lessons Washington learned from the clinics, and by watching film, helped transform him senior year.

"Once you are drilled so many times, it becomes second nature to you," Washington said. "I'm not a muscular guy so my technique has to be sound. Jeff introduced us to a lot of technique when he came the beginning of my junior year, and we kept on drilling it and drilling it. A lot of the technique stuff I learned involves muscle memory."

He also credits Lauzon for helping him through adverse moments.

"When I lost in the semis at FCIACs, Jeff told me `to go out there and take third,'" Washington recalled. "The small words he said to us meant the world to us."

Life on the wrestling mat began for Washington freshman year when he and his older brothers, Andrew and Adam (both Class '11) noticed Chris and Mike Giunta (Class '11) running sprints in preparation for wrestling. The Giunta twins suggested that the Washington brothers join the team, and the rest is history.

"If you were to ask me freshman year how I'd do, I never thought I'd do this well," Washington said. "I'm proud of myself for what I accomplished."

Lauzon said, "The progress Mikell made from last year to this year is the most I ever seen."

Wrestling wasn't the only new sport Washington tried freshman year. He began playing rugby as well. Staples assistant wrestling coach Norman Zeitchick, who also coached rugby, told the Washington brothers that this spring sport would help them with their conditioning for wrestling.

When Washington joined the rugby team, he was inserted as an 8-man, the position that's in the back of the scrum.

Last June, Washington helped the Connecticut U-17 All-Star team win the New England All-Star championship. His strength was instrumental in the Wreckers winning many scrums.

"In contrast to wrestling, rugby is a team sport and there are no individuals," Washington said. "We're all close and have good chemistry. We work well with each other and get along. It's a matter of our scrum getting low and pushing back."

Staples rugby coach Oscar Barahona said, "Mikell is very passionate, and he plays with a lot of intensity. He's a good teacher and motivator of the team."

The 6'0, 195-pound Washington was a Second Team All-FCIAC defensive lineman in football. He had 70 tackles, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles and had two fumble recoveries in leading the Wreckers to the FCIAC title.

"We had great coaching, Coach P [head coach Marce Petroccio], Coach McCray [defensive line coach Jesse McCray] and Coach Socci [defensive coordinator Lew Socci], and all my success comes from them," Washington said. "They pushed us in the weight room, and all the conditioning from wrestling and rugby, helped."

Leadership is a strength of Washington as he's a two-sport captain, serving as rugby captain this spring. He mostly leads by example through his work ethic.

"You have to show everybody what it takes to be good, and how to excel at a sport," Washington said.

Lauzon said, "As a team leader, you can't ask for a better captain."

Academically, Washington is a good student. English is his favorite subject.

"I've always been taught, no matter what I do, academics always come first," Washington said. "I also learned you have to give 100 percent in everything you do."

In choosing a favorite sport, Washington picked wrestling even though he liked the other two.

"The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is wrestling," Washington said. "The thing I like about wrestling is that you can always improve, and even if you lose, it's up to you to get better."

Although wrestling is his favorite and he may do it in college, his mind is open to play the other two sports as well. It all depends on where Washington goes. He knows in order to perform in college, he'll have to improve.

"A huge key will be conditioning, strengthening up and having good body weight when I'm at the peak at my conditioning," Washington said.

His wrestling and rugby coaches are confident he could play their respective sports in college.

"Mikell blossomed in the last 12 months, and there's no reason why he couldn't do well at the college level," Lippert said.

Lauzon said, "If he wrestled at a D-III school, he'd do extremely well. If Mikell is given the right tools, he can go anywhere."

Barahona said, "Mikell would do well if he played in college. He's a hard worker and student and very respectable. Mikell is a different person when he's on the field."

Because it's almost impossible to play three college sports, and it's extremely difficult to play two, Washington will have to make some choices. At the very least, he would have to give up one sport, possibly two.

"What I told myself before this year I'd have no regrets because I gave 100 percent in everything, so giving up a sport won't be hard," Washington said.