Quinn Kinner battles the same opponent every day in the wrestling room.
He never lets up and neither does the other guy, a tough customer who likes to dance to oldies before bouts, is an Ohio State recruit and counts himself as a 76ers fan.
Kinner and his biggest rival are the same wrestler, and they throw down in the Dragons' auxiliary gym on a regular basis.
"I want to be able to beat yesterday's me every single day," Kinner said. "I want to get one percent better every day."
Kinner, a senior 138-pounder at Kingsway, is a defending state champion. But he likes to keep raising the bar on himself.
Kinner got his final season for the Dragons off to a sensational start over the weekend, winning the prestigious Beast of the East tournament at the University of Delaware.
"Last year, I lost in [the Beast of the East finals] in sudden victory and I was thinking about that for a while," Kinner said. "I don't like to get upset about the matches so I didn't dwell on it, but winning that tournament was definitely
something I was wanted to get on my resume."
Kinner emerged on the top step of the podium in a talented field that included Pope John's JoJo Aragona — a possible rematch foe for Kinner at the state tournament in Atlantic City in March — as well as Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic's Jarred Papcsy and Christianburg (Va.) Prep's Marshall Keller.
Kinner handled the highly regarded Aragona by a 10-4 score in the quarterfinals and beat Keller, a two-time Virginia state champion, by 11-3 in methodical fashion in the final.
"He wrestled well, but it's kind of what we expected," Kingsway coach Mike Barikian said of Kinner.
Barikian was talking at the Region 8 competition in March about Kinner's ability to develop into the best wrestler in the country at his weight class as a senior.
Kinner has embraced that challenge.
"Mentally, going into a match I truly believe that I'm the best in the country," Kinner said. "I make myself believe that I am. So going into a match I'm thinking, 'This kid can't take me down, this kid can't get out on bottom and this kid can't hold me down, so where's he planning on winning?'"
For all his confidence and competitive fire, Kinner has an easygoing personality and a calm disposition in the moments before a big bout.
Last year was Barikian's first as the Dragons' coach, and the Beast of the East was his first time in Kinner's corner. He was stunned by the wrestler's relaxed attitude.
"He was joking with us, dancing around and I realized he was on deck," Barikian said. "I was asking other guys, 'Should I be worried about this? Does he need to get dialed in?'
"He was like, 'Nah, that's Quinn.'"
Kinner said he loves to listen to music by Billy Joel and Michael Jackson on his headphones before taking the mat. "I'm into my oldies," he said.
But the real source of his serenity in the anxious moments before tough bouts is his love of the sport, and his philosophical approach to the unpredictable nature of competition.
"I love to wrestle," Kinner said. "That's kind of an advantage for me. I know a lot of people get nervous. I just think to myself: 'I'm just going out there to have fun. I'm not going out there for the results.' You can control what you can control. You can't control if you win or lose. You can't control what the other guy does. I just love to wrestle. I like to stay relaxed and stay calm."
Kinner said he's guarding against complacency as a reigning state champion. A challenging schedule and a demanding coach such as Barikian should help in that regard.
"Winning a state title, a lot of times you see kids drop off," Kinner said. "Coach Barikian is one of the best in the business at keeping that fire under your butt. He wants to push you to be the best you can be. He's always pushing you saying there's somebody out there working harder than you, there's somebody out there that's better than you, 'Beat them, keep working to beat them.'"
Barikian said Kinner's success starts with his workouts in the wrestling room.
"He drills like a great collegiate wrestler," Barikian said of Kinner.
Kinner's victory at the Beast of the East set the stage for what could be a special senior season — an undefeated record perhaps, and another state championship as well.
Kinner acknowledges he hopes to capture another crown under the vaulted ceiling in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. But he's learned not to look any further ahead than the next workout with his archrival, the shadowy guy who pushes him to the limit every day.
"I want to be best version of myself," Kinner said. "I want to be the best wrestler I possibly can be. I want to push myself as hard as I can and that's how I stay motivated."