Prior to wrestling the biggest match of his career before a full house at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, Anthony Knox did a little reading.

“The morning of the [NJSIAA state] finals I was reading the Bible before I went out there,” said the freshman from St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel. “I was just trying to get my mind right [and] relax a little bit in that environment. I definitely think it helps a lot in my wrestling.”

The Scripture passage he chose was Psalm 3:6.

“I’m gonna get that tattooed on me one day – ‘I shall not be scared as I stand in front of 10,000 people versus one,’” he said in paraphrasing the passage.

The actual translation in the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition is,” I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” But Knox thought clearly about what the Scripture meant to him.

“I think when all eyes are on you, that’s when you should be most confident,” he said. “And when there’s one eye on you, that’s when you should feel a little weak. I only need to fear God. I try to read the Bible every morning.”

Armed with his faith, Knox went out and won a convincing 7-1 decision over Eastern High (of Voorhees) senior Jared Brunner to claim the 113-pound championship at the State Championships March 5.

“It felt good to get that first one and get it out of the way,” the ultra-confident Knox said. “Now I’ve got three years to make it happen again and again.”  

It capped a remarkable season for the ninth-grader – who finished 32-1 – and for the SJV program as a whole. SJV sent a school-record eight wrestlers to the states and had four place-winners. As all but one were underclassmen, the future looks intensely bright for the Lancers.

Freshman Patrick O’Keefe finished second at 106 pounds, senior Nico Diaz was third at 132 and junior Jasiah Queen took fifth at 157. Freshmen Jake Zaltsman (120 pounds) and Cole Strangle (144), and juniors Joe Giordano (126) and Kevin McBride (150), also made it to Atlantic City.

“To be honest with you, I thought we could have had at least one or two more,” third-year coach Chris Notte said. “I’m proud of what we brought out there [and] put on the podium. But I’m still hungry as a coach. I expect us to have more next year.”

Knox felt likewise and loved the fact so many of his teammates were in Atlantic City with him.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” the Freehold resident said. “We work for each other. Patrick O’Keefe is working just as hard for me as I am for him. When they win it feels like a win for all of us. Some of the guys didn’t get the results they wanted down there, but next year and the year after that it will come. I have a strong vision we all will be state champs.”

Knox had that vision about himself long before he got to high school. Having wrestled – and won – national caliber tournaments around the country, he was well prepared for the rigors of going against wrestlers three years older than him.  

“He handles every match with great maturity and takes every match seriously,” Notte said. “doesn't take anyone lightly. He has respect for his opponents, but he wrestles everyone like they’re trying to take away his dreams.

“He knows how to separate every match but also keep the same approach. He knows he needs to go out there and get the first takedown, and he’s gotta continue to look to score from every position.”

Because of the outstanding reputation Knox brought to high school, Notte feels that he constantly has to be the aggressor or risk getting penalized.  

“These refs know what he’s capable of, so he knows he always has to look to score,” the coach said. “If not, his accolades or notoriety will work against him. The refs will be very quick to hit him with a stall call if he’s not out there at least making it look like he’s working.”

Knox has no issue with that, feeling it provides him constant motivation.

“I kind of like that because I always want to stay on my offense,” he said. “Whether it’s the refs making me do it, or me making me do it myself I think it’s a good thing for my wrestling.”

For those who watched Knox bulldoze his way to district, region and state titles in dominating fashion, they would never believe that six-year-old Anthony was the same wrestler.

He got interested in the sport while watching his father, also Anthony, compete in Mixed Martial Arts when the family moved from Staten Island to New Jersey. MMA is a combination of techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu, karate, Thai boxing and other disciplines.

As he watched his dad work out and compete, the environment of a fighting gym got to young Anthony, and he wanted to get on the mat. He signed up for recreation wrestling but had an inauspicious debut.

“The first day … I wrestled six matches and lost all six,” Knox said. “I didn’t win, but I left with a smile on my face – and that’s all that matters.”

He ended up going 1-14 that first year, but never got discouraged.

“I was pretty awful,” he said. “But I’ve just always been in love with the sport and just kept going.”

To go from 1-14 to a state champ in 12 years took a ton of training, workouts and sacrifice. Knox joined the Rhino Wrestling Club in Morganville at an early age and has been there ever since, along with several of his state-qualifying teammates.

He began going to big-time tournaments and by age 10 broke through and placed at the New Jersey Youth State Tournament. Just prior to beginning his high school career, Knox got his biggest win last October when he won the Super 32 Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

“I started getting a lot of recognition after that one,” Knox said. “After that, it just took off. My whole career I wanted to focus on national stuff, and the state stuff will just follow. I’ve stuck to that and it’s worked really well.”

Despite arriving at SJV with a big name, Knox did not act that way.

“He’s a humble guy,” Notte said. “He works hard, never misses a workout, then he goes to his RHINO club … He knows that what he’s trying to do in his life is going to require and demand a lot of hard work. And that kid puts in 100 percent.”

That performance is obvious not just on the mat, but also in the classroom. During his years at Freehold’s Barkalow Middle School, Knox earned a 3.8 grade point average. He has made the Honor Roll his first two marking periods at SJV and is on track to do it a third time.

“I want to go Division One,” he said. “I want to maybe get into one of those Ivy League schools, so I’ve got to make sure my grades are in order.”

For someone so young, it’s pretty impressive how Knox seems to have life’s most important goals all in order.