|Briar Woods senior Michael Hulcher, shown here after winning a 2013 state championship, recently became the all-time winningest varsity wrestler in Loudoun County Public Schools history.—Times-Mirror File Photo/Moe Murphy|
Michael Hulcher does not cut the most imposing figure on the wrestling mat. He doesn't have the thickest neck, or the broadest shoulders or the most bulging arms. He isn't the short, stocky type that bowls opponents over, nor the long, lanky variety that reaches out and grabs someone.
What the clean-cut, mild-mannered young man from Briar Woods High School does possess, however, is an insatiable determination not to lose, or even let it be close.
"Intensity," said Hulcher, defending Virginia AA state wrestling champion in the 126-pound weight class, when asked what he feels sets him apart. "After losing at states my sophomore year, I got that fire in my belly. I wanted to do something every day to get after that goal [of a state title]."
In his first bout of the Freedom Duals Jan. 11, Hulcher recorded the 164th victory of his varsity wrestling career, surpassing the mark set by Loudoun County High School's Tyler Anthony to become the most prolific grappler ever at a Loudoun school.
To date, Hulcher owns a record of 171-24 with nearly 100 pins. He has lost just four matches since the start of last season. In 2013, Hulcher went 50-2 and captured the first state wrestling title in Briar Woods' history, despite enduring a painfully torn right labrum that robbed him of strength and movement.
"It was brutal," said Hulcher of the injury, since surgically fixed. "But I think that helped me prepare mentally. I just needed to get through the pain."
Killing 'em with kindness
Not that the Briar Woods senior lacks humility. Off the mat, he speaks respectfully, furnishing his thoughts in complete sentences and making habit of crediting others.
"It's the way he trains. He's always working," said Ryan Rogers, the only head wrestling coach in Briar Woods' nine-year history. "He's very coachable. He wrestles seven days a week. And he's not happy until he's walking off the mat with a pin. He wants to score as many points as possible."
Rogers added, "He wants them to know they wrestled Michael Hulcher."
Hulcher comes by his character honestly. He learned the sport before entering high school, watching older brothers Thomas and Brian as they each compiled more than 120 wins as Falcon wrestlers.
But it is his parents, both former U.S. Army servicemembers, who contributed greatest to molding his never-say-die attitude.
"I definitely owe a lot to my parents," said Hulcher, who gets in up to 100 more bouts in the offseason. "They've always drilled home the fact that if you want something, it's not just going to come to you. Hard work gets you what you want."
Indeed, Rogers praises Hulcher's mother Susan for greatly aiding not just her son's development, but that of many other local youngsters too.
The coach tells of how frequently Mrs. Hulcher has loaded up the family SUV with high school wrestlers from various parts of the county and trucked them out to a weekend tournament somewhere, letting them gain the sort of experience that makes them better.
"She's like the unsung coach on this team. I've even said to [athletic director Jerry Carter], make her the coach of this team to handle all the administrative stuff and let me focus on wrestling," he joked, not entirely unseriously. "Really, that whole family has been a blessing."
That drive to help has rubbed off on Michael, to the benefit of the Briar Woods program. Rogers tells of Hulcher's generosity toward every one of his Falcon teammates, whether a highly skilled upperclassman or a comparative neophyte.
There have been times, Rogers reports, that Hulcher has forced an opponent into a pin, then moments later gone off to the side with that opponent and worked through some technique practice.
Rogers notes that Hulcher assumed a virtual role of coach with the recently founded Ashburn Wrestling Club, centered around the Briar Woods and Broad Run programs.
"We relied on Michael to be a mentor and an educator to the other kids," Rogers said. "If he wants to be a wrestling coach, it's 100 percent he can be. Not all good wrestlers would make good coaches. He just loves to give back."
Be all you can be
Unlike his brothers, Michael has opted to continue his wrestling career at the collegiate level. On Dec. 15 he accepted a scholarship offer to toil for Virginia Military Institute after considering opportunities with American University and Lock Haven University.
He plans to study either business finance or physical therapy at the next level, and he doesn't feel daunted by the rigid lifestyle demanded at a military institution.
"I saw the alumni there really developing a bond that you don't see at other schools. It's a brotherhood," said Hulcher, whose brother Thomas served as a Keydet undergraduate. "The coaches really have big plans for the program and I want to be part of that."
But he has some physical business to attend to in his senior season. He still does something he started last year, writing "state champion" on the mirror steam when he gets out of the shower.
"Every time I step out there, I really push myself," Hulcher said. "I love winning and seeing hard work pay off. When I get my hand raised, it's like, awesome. That's why I like this sport."
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