A factory rises above the football field behind Paulsboro High School.

Its smokestack's emission blended into the clouds on a dreary December Tuesday. Less than 500 feet from the school, a mill read "Go Big Red" in bold, red letters, acknowledging and embracing the school.

One sport the town has recognized is wrestling. The school's program has won six straight South Jersey Group 1 titles. Paulsboro has produced 26 individual state championships.

On the bottom floor of the brick school, the most recent champion, senior Ronnie Gentile, sat in the trainer's room. When he left, he strapped on a compression sleeve that wrapped around his torso and left shoulder.

Karen Minniti, the secretary for the school's principal, and wrestling coach Paul Morina, asked Gentile about his shoulder. It was "nothing," he said.

Gentile, a Rutgers recruit, visited a doctor Monday. His coach was still awaiting the results, expecting a strain or maybe a small tear. But the coach knew his wrestler would be fine. Gentile practiced the day before and would participate in a scrimmage later that day.

"He has to get used to it if he's going to wrestle in college," said Morina, who later learned Gentile might have a pinched nerve.

This isn't the first obstacle Gentile had to overcome. He couldn't wrestle after he fractured his right ankle as a freshman. But he has not missed another opportunity or used an excuse, even when he has had the chance.

He dislocated his left ring finger as a sophomore in a state quarterfinal against Delbarton's Nick Anderson, a senior at the time who beat him the previous year. It was his first dislocation, but Morina popped it back into place and Gentile won the match, 6-3.

Last year, he developed a bad virus that reached its peak the Friday of the state championships. Gentile fought through his fatigue to win a state championship.

"He's mentally tough," Morina said. "Either you have it or you don't have it. He has that desire and he wants to win. He's pretty tough and he works hard. That's the bottom line."

Gentile is motivated to wrestle for more than himself.

"It was definitely not just for me," he said. "Not even just my family, it was for my whole town. . . . Everyone knows each other and everybody wants to stay close to each other like it's been for the last 50 years. There's no plan to change that. We want to keep that."

He said 30 people traveled to Atlantic City last season to watch him win the state title at 138 pounds.

He is the second in his family to win a state title. His uncle, Tony, won in 1957, and his brother, father, and numerous cousins and uncles have wrestled at the school. He knows he's not alone, rattling off the Giovanittis, the Hamiltons, the Morinas, and the Suters as families with a similar tradition.

"We do things as a coaching staff to make our kids know that this program isn't built on one person," Morina said. "We always talk about the town being behind us and the community, everyone before you and the tradition we have."

Gentile will move up to 145 pounds, looking to add another state crown. He knows he's a target now.

But Gentile is approaching this year just like last, knowing he has his town behind him.

ncarroll@phillynews.com

@NickJCarroll