One would think that Albemarle High’s Zach Morris is a little too young to remember “Saved By The Bell,” the TV sitcom from the 1990’s that featured a preppy, blonde-haired teen who went by the name of Zack Morris.
“I actually watch the show before I go to school every morning,” said Morris, an AHS junior.
Alas, the joy of reruns.
“He’s a little bit tougher than the Zack Morris on the show,” joked Albemarle assistant wrestling coach Rob Stolin. “He’s no pretty boy.”
That is quite obvious.
Last weekend at Colonial Forge, Morris became the first wrestler in recent AHS history to win a Northwest Region championship. Morris, who won the 145-pound title, has posted a 36-2 record this season.
Today, Morris will look to keep the momentum going in the Group AAA championship, which is taking place at Robinson High in Fairfax and runs through Saturday.
“I’ll take it one step at a time,” said Morris, who has a career record of 105-20, “but I want to be in the state finals. That’s my biggest goal. I’ve wanted that goal since i was a little kid.”
Morris’ older brother, Nick, used to wrestle for AHS. When Morris was 6, he used to tag along to his practices. AHS head coach Donnell Hopkins remembers those days well.
“Zach was always in the wrestling room,” Hopkins recalled. “He was our little Patriot mascot.”
Morris’ wrestling career had an ominous start. In his very first match — which took place when he was in the first grade — he broke his collarbone.
But Morris, who has also had to deal with Tourette’s syndrome his whole life — he says he has a mild case that hardly affects him — kept plugging.
Morris stuck with the sport, and, according to Hopkins, became so good that he was eventually offered scholarships by Woodberry Forest and Blue Ridge.
However, because of his history with AHS and his relationship with Hopkins, Morris decided to stay put.
The Patriots are glad he did.
Stolin calls Morris an “ideal role model.”
“He’s a great example for the rest of the team to look up to,” the AHS assistant said. “He works extremely hard. He hasn’t gotten this far on talent alone. He’s put the time in. He deserves this.”
Hopkins, a three-time district champion in his day, said he knew he had something special with Morris from the get-go. In fact, it was about 10 years ago when he told Morris’ parents, Mike and Leanne, that their son was going to be his first-ever state champion.
Morris, who took sixth in the region tournament last season in the 130-pound class, also trains and competes with the Cavalier Wrestling Club. The 16-year-old says he is thankful to local businesses such as Riverside Grill and Crutchfield for sponsoring him over the years.
Morris hopes to wrestle in college when he graduates next spring.
Before that, though, he’s got some business to take care of this weekend.
When you really think about it, Morris is probably closer to “Saved By The Bell’s” tank-top wearing A.C. Slater character than his preppy namesake.
“Zach’s the total package,” Hopkins said. “I think he’ll be Albemarle’s first state champion.”
While Morris is dead set on doing just that, he says the year has already been a success, regardless of what happens in the next two days.
“To reach my accomplishments and reach my goals feels good,” he said, “because it means a lot of my hard work has paid off.”