By MIKE GAROFOLA
When you say Hinsdale Central wrestling – the first thing that comes to mind is its heavyweights.
So much so, that Liam Drury fondly calls his school: Heavyweight Central.
The phrase fits – certainly since 2010 when the Red Devils program turned out one superb big man after another (all) with the same last name with the Allen Brothers (Jack, Brian, Matt) squashing the competition en route to three state titles, and nine overall overall state medals.
Matt Allen’s understudy (Niko Ivanisevic) enjoyed a breakout season during his first and only season a year ago with the big club, to give the program one more bonafide big man, before he went on to play football at Princeton University.
When Brian Allen earned his second state medal in 2012, then-freshmen, Juwann Edmond would help make the middle of the Red Devils lineup relevant when he began his run to becoming the only four-time state medalist in program history.
When Edmond finished third during his senior year in 2015, Liam Drury came aboard, and two years later, Drury, who along with Luke Skokna, Ameen Hamdan and Caleb Lagestee formed a tremendous partnership which collected 130 victories to give Jason Hayes a dazzling unit in the middle of his lineup.
Hamdan has since graduated – Lagestee was recently sent to the injury list – leaving Drury and Skokna to become the strike force in the Red Devils attack.
“The Allens and Niko were awesome (all) three of them were great kids, who, each enjoyed plenty of success (we/I) was very fortunate to have coached them,” says head coach, Jason Hayes.
“Liam and Luke are both tremendous young man (who) have a great work ethic, drill hard, wrestle hard and compete at the highest level.”
“They lead this team by their actions, and we’re fortunate to have them in our program, and in the middle of our lineup as well.”
The two have made an indelible mark on Red Devils wrestling, and in their respective weight classes, right from the very start of their high school careers.
“(Hayes) makes it fun to be in the room, and a part of Hinsdale Central wrestling,” admits Drury, who would start in this sport back in first grade, meeting his eventual teammate and friend playing Little League baseball.
“Liam is a cool dude, a great practice room partner, and someone, who like me, wants to work hard and do the right things in order to compete at a high level – and although we have our different friends (because most of mine are from playing football) – he’s still a great guy to have as a friend, especially if I might need help with a class or two of mine,” says Skokna.
Drury, who, if all goes according to plan, will take his 4.95 GPA (out of 5.00) to NYU next fall, where he would major in Marketing and minor in Psychology, all of which will be decided once the wrestling season comes to an end.
The senior began his prep career at 126 pounds during his rookie campaign under Hayes, then moved up to 132 the following season, before recording a break-out year in 2017 where he won 29, but falling short in his bid to get downstate.
“One of the highlights of my career thus far was beating Tyler Zeman (Lyons) in our sectional qualifying match at regionals last year (but) a really tough sectional, combined with an injury (more) or less ended my chances of making downstate,” says Drury.
After winning his sectional opener at Downers Grove North, Drury torn the meniscus in his right knee, forcing him to change his style in order to still compete.
Drury would later have that knee repaired – just two years after the other taken care of following an injury suffered at Frosh-Soph State.
“What happened at sectionals was disappointing, but it’s nothing compared to what my mother (Erin) went through (and) since she was my motivation to everything, I didn’t dwell on my injury and not qualifying.”
Drurys’ family, specifically his mother was forced into a battle with breast cancer, which she eventually beat, and now is cancer free.
“I remember it was on a Saturday, in eighth grade, and our parents sat us down in the living room to tell us the news – it obviously was not a happy time, and definitely scary,” recounts Drury.
“We found out the tumor was benign, and was not in her lymph nodes, but she still had to go through chemo and radiation to destroy the cancer.”
“We all had to pitch in around the house with the cleaning, and other chores or taking her to chemo treatments – so just watching how strong she was during it all – it made me feel so much stronger (to) the point of: if she could beat cancer, I can be just as strong as her each time I go out on the mat.”
Drury admits to perhaps being born too late, as he takes on more of that 1960’s approach to life and sport – most times.
“I can be a little laid back, plus for me, it’s all about school spirit and enjoying the whole high school experience, each and everyday.”
“(But) when Luke and I go ‘live’ in the room – there’s no holding back for either of us,” begins Drury.
“Obviously, my motivation to succeed is driven by what happened to my mother, but with Luke, it’s always super close between us all of the time.”
“I have so much respect for him because he’s such an incredible three-sport athlete, but the desire for each of us to get the most take-downs, or points makes us work that much harder each day.”
Drury’s style is different than his teammates, his being plenty of high pace, mixed in with patience and composure, that also includes well executed sprawls and a craftiness that allows him to show plenty of different looks during his bouts.
The Red Devils duo would both lift championship trophies at the prestigious Moore-Prettyman on Thanksgiving weekend at Barrington to help solidify their lofty spots in the state polls, which this week have Drury (11-1) sixth at 145 pounds and Skokna (13-2) fifth at 160 pounds.
“I worked a lot with Mike Powell during the offseason, and he really helped me with the mental and mind-set parts of the sport,” says Drury.
“It should be all about wins and losses, instead, the focus should be getting take-downs, turns (those) types of things during a match, it’s helped me a lot.”
So has his choice of music prior to going on.
“Yes, I admit, it’s the Jackson 5 (during) the break before finals: the song ‘I Want You Back’ brings a smile to my face and helps me get free and loose.”
Skokna has no such taste in music as his workout partner, instead, the three-year starter reverts back to his middle school days when, in seventh grade, he went to his first ever high school dual and experienced an almost wrestling nirvana of sorts.
“That night, they turned out all the lights in the gym, then brought down the spotlight (it) was unbelievable, and it was that atmosphere that turned me onto the sport, and I haven’t forgotten it since, and it’s something I still think of,” says Skokna, who since has become a rarity in high school athletics – a three sport star.
Skokna, who won 26 in his rookie year, before adding 38 a year ago, both seasons ending with trips to sectionals, is a standout running back for the Red Devils, and in the spring has a starring role in sprints with the track team.
“It’s all about just being balanced in what I do, whether in sports or the classroom,” says a modest Skokna, who has run for nearly 2500 yards the past two seasons, while scoring 30 touchdowns, all of which earned him back-to-back all-conference honors.
“I guess I like staying busy,” understates Skokna, who has plenty of ‘busy’ going on in and around his house, where he’s one of ten children.
“There’s a lot of bunk beds in our house,” jokes Skokna, who sits right in the middle of his oldest sibling at 29, and youngest, who is nine.
Skokna, who runs the 100, 200 and 400 meter events, was a member of the Red Devils 4×400 meter state qualifying team last spring.
It was the aforementioned Matt Allen who would become the mentor for Skokna during his state championship season of 2016.
Not sure if he would don the Red Devils singlet prior to the start of the regular season, Allen persuaded Skokna to join he and his mates, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Matt told me to give wrestling a real shot, and through him and his family, I became real close to all of them, and it was his encouragement at the start and all through the season that helped me achieve some success,” says the junior.
Skokna would advance into the state tournament that season, and although he was a one and done guy that season, he remains eternally thankful for Allen and the attention he and his family would show him.
Since then, his appreciation for his continued success goes to Jason Harris, and Drury, who each have found a way to bring the best in him, which he in turn hopes to do for others in the program – namely his younger teammates.
“Matt (Allen) was there for me, so now, it’s me and Liam who should lead by example and to be their mentor,” says Skokna, who got into the sport late (seventh grade) and has since then risen rapidly through the ranks.
A typical week during the offseason highlights just how hard Skokna’s nose is to the grindstone, with time spent in camps from each sport, until it becomes 100% football in the fall, and a little more football on a Sunday during the wrestling and track seasons.
“I really believe all three sports go a long way towards me becoming better at each of them, but in wrestling, I am lucky to have a great partner like Liam.”
“He’s so good at tie-ups, he helps me get comfortable in situations that I am not used to, and he’s so smart.”
“Both of us will work as hard as we can to get on that podium in Champaign, and we’re lucky to have each other to push the other to reach that goal.”