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The Daily Tar Heel

Desire to Be His Best Fuels UNC's Bentley

He's not No. 1 in his weight class.

At least not yet.

In the meantime, Bentley continues to prove he's one of the best. Having already won individual titles at the Cornell Invitational and the VerticalNet Open this season, Bentley finished third in the Las Vegas Invitational in the

149-pound weight class. Seeded fifth, the two wrestlers who finished higher were two of the top wrestlers in the country.

The early success of Bentley, a redshirt junior who is 14-1 this season, is due mostly to his desire to be at the top of his game.

"It's hard for me to understand what working hard is," Bentley said. "I always ask myself if I'm doing more than everyone else is in my weight class in the nation today, and that's what motivates me to work harder."

It's his strong determination on the mat that, at times, worries UNC coach Bill Lam. While Lam is impressed by his effort, he hopes Bentley can recognize when to settle down.

"He has matured tremendously and has one of the best work ethics on the team," Lam said. "But he goes at it so hard that we sometimes have to pull him off the mat. We just hope to keep him healthy because he's been injured in the past."

As his maturity level has increased, so has Bentley's understanding of Lam's intentions.

"Coach Lam and some of the guys accuse me of that (working too hard)," Bentley said. "I try to get to where I listen to them more and take breaks when he tells me."

He has unwillingly taken such breaks since his childhood. Bentley's brother, a former wrestler at Appalachian State, became his inspiration to wrestle - and his archrival. The Bentley living room doubled as a wrestling room complete with coffee tables, recliners and sofas pushed aside to make way for the dueling brothers.

What started as horseplay between Bentley and his sibling quickly turned into a love for the sport. At Avery County High School, he became the 1997 national champion at 130 pounds, finished with a spotless 144-0 record and became the only prep wrestler in the state to finish undefeated and win four state titles.

Bentley has continued that success at North Carolina, where he is a former ACC champion and All-ACC selection. Despite compiling a strong 61-14 record over two years, he decided to redshirt last season to refine his wrestling skills.

"I improved so much last year training with (assistant coach and former Tar Heel wrestler) T. J. Jaworsky, and being a workout partner with him made me a lot better," Bentley said. "I also got strong in the weight room and grew mentally."

His workout routines with Jaworsky, a three-time NCAA champion, gave him the competitive experience he couldn't gain while redshirting. Now he's using the tutelage of Jaworsky and his other coaches as even more motivation to spearhead another great wrestling season.

"They've reached the goals that I'm trying to reach," Bentley said. "All of our coaches have been All-Americans and national champions, so it gives me confidence in them when they tell me something because I know they've been there."

Sounds like Bentley could catch a break at the top after all.

The Sports Editor can be reached at

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