BELOIT - David Crawford was one of the state's best 160-pound wrestlers as a sophomore, but it wasn't enough.
Crawford placed fourth at the state tournament - an incredible accomplishment for an underclassman - and he did most of his damage from the neutral position (where both wrestlers are on their feet). His speed and ability to attack from a variety of angles made him one of the state's elite neutral wrestlers.
That still wasn't enough - not for someone whose lone focus is winning a state championship.
So Crawford and the Canfield coaching staff zeroed in on the top position. The now 170-pound junior hasn't had many problems scoring from the bottom, but turning opponents to their back, especially state-quality opponents, is not an easy task. Well, it didn't use to be.
Crawford pinned all three of his opponents at Saturday's Division II West Branch sectional tournament, including state-ranked Marcus Davis from Alliance in the championship match. He advanced to this weekend's district tournament as a No. 1 seed following his third straight sectional title.
There was no secret formula to improving on top, Crawford said.
"Just kind of hitting (the moves) a lot in practice," he said of how he got better. "Our practice room is just really good. Our upperweights, we had five champs today, and even some of our JV guys who couldn't make the lineup (are good). Like my brother (freshman Nick Crawford), he's in there smashing heads with kids, and we've got other guys like that too."
Indeed, the Cardinals, who placed second as a team with 229.5 points, boast some of the best upperweights in Ohio, regardless of division. As Crawford said, he was one of five sectional champions. Returning state champion Georgio Poullas was first at 160, and fellow state-ranked wrestlers Anthony D'Alesio (152), Dominic Cooper (182) and Tyler Stein (195) also claimed titles.
While they're part of what makes Crawford the wrestler he is, Canfield coach Dean Conley said Crawford himself is the main reason he's being recruited by several major Division I colleges.
"Last year, we thought his number-one weakness was he wasn't quick enough, so he spent nine months getting quicker," he said. "That's what he did - jumped rope at the end of every practice all year long and then did speed work (in the offseason). This year, we said, 'You need to be better on top, especially if you're going to be a college wrestler, you've got be better now.' So he spent the last six months working top stuff and working top stuff, and now it's really starting to pay off. He's a kid that's always going to do the work, so you just have to tell David, 'This is your weakness,' and he'll be the guy to do the work to change it. He's a special kid."
He will get a better gauge as to how special his wrestling is next weekend. Crawford, who also placed sixth in the state as a freshman at 152 pounds, is the top-ranked 170-pound wrestler according to multiple publications, and he'll face wrestlers ranked as high second and fifth in the state at the Alliance district.
Crawford, now 33-5, is looking forward to the competition.
"It's really exciting, and it's fun," Crawford said of higher-level matches.
It's also one of the only ways he's going to reach his expectation.
"The goal," he said, "is to be a state champ."
It's the next step in an impressive progression for Crawford.