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RAF LAKENHEATH — Lakenheath High School freshman Derek Franco started his second year of organized wrestling without very high hopes.

“I thought it would just be an average year,” Franco said. “I never thought I would do this well.”

The 112-pound wrestler enjoyed a phenomenal freshman campaign that recently culminated with a third-place finish at the European championship tournament.

His tough performance at the Wiesbaden Army Air Field in Germany this past weekend followed a United Kingdom sectional title two weeks ago and a 17-3 regular season record.

“It was Derek’s constant aggression and defense that allow him to win,” head coach Darryl Brock said. “Excellent performance for his hard work this year. He was the bright spot for the LHS team.”

He attributes his success to a strong dislike for losing.

“I just hate to lose,” he said. “When I go into a match, I think to myself, ‘I should win. I have to win.’ ”

Franco, who also plays running back on the football field, said he was first attracted to wrestling last season by friends and the physical nature of the sport.

“I enjoy the contact. I like hitting people,” Franco said.

He said his wrestling stance is the strongest thing in his repertoire.

“I’ve worked all season on my basic moves, but coach said I have good balance and a good stance,” he said.

Brock said Franco has impressed him both on the mat and in the classroom.

“He’s real tough out there, and he never seems to quit out there,” Brock said. “He knows how to twist and turn and get out of those holds. He’s a contortionist.”

Brock said the 15-year-old is also one of the sharpest students in his biology class.

“He’s one of the few students who knows the answers,” Brock said. “He’s got his hand up all the time.”

Franco said he’s unsure if he will wrestle in college, and said he would like to study toward a career in marine biology or with the Coast Guard.

“I’d like to wrestle in college, but it’s not a huge priority for me,” he said.

For now, the young wrestler has plenty of time to figure out his future.

“It’s great to get to travel with the team and miss some school to wrestle,” he said.

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