The hard work paid off, and Wheeler coach Matt Brickley quickly learned that Chaves was a special talent.
“I met him in the fall of his freshman year, and one thing I noticed was that he was a hyperactive kid,” Brickley said. “He was talking all of the time and was all over the place. I thought he’d be a distraction in practice, but his personality worked in his favor because he was always active.”
Chaves turned that energy into positive results as a sophomore.
He placed second at 135 pounds at the Cobb County Invitational, and was crowned the Region 5AAAAA champion, but his season ended prematurely when he fell one win shy of placing at the state sectional and failed to make the Class AAAAA state finals.
That’s when things changed for Chaves.
“Losing one match away from making it to state didn’t sit well with him,” Brickley said. “He got down on himself and made some bad decisions later.”
Due to the sectional loss, coupled with other personal problems, Chaves fell into a funk. He wasn’t focused on school or on wrestling, and he admittedly didn’t make the best decisions.
Chaves’ grades also suffered. Normally a good student, his report card included two Cs and two Bs following the first semester of his junior year, after typically getting As and Bs.
“At the time, I didn’t care too much about anything,” Chaves said. “I didn’t care too much about wrestling or my school work, and I wasn’t focused on it.”
With his grades suffering and his attitude changing, Chaves’ friends and family joined Brickley in stepping in and offering advice and help.
The message was clear. Sometimes, bad things happen in life, but it’s how you recover from those moments and turn them into positives that define your character and who you are as a person in the future.
“That’s what he’s done,” Brickley said. “His behavior, his grades, his attitude — they all got better. He could have gone one way with his life, but now it’s going another.”
Chaves said a change in his attitude over the winter break after he stopped wrestling put him on a better path.
“A lot of folks helped me figure out some things,” he said. “I stopped wrestling in December and then picked it back up in March for the freestyle season. What I learned is that you can make mistakes in life, but it’s what you do after those mistakes that define you.”
With a different outlook, Chaves went back to being the person he was before and strived to become the person he wanted to be. His report card included three As and a B after the second semester of his junior year and he repeated those grades this past fall, the first semester of his senior season.
But heading into his senior year, Chaves faced adversity again, this time related to wrestling.
He had his appendix removed over the summer, resulting in lost practice time due to his recovery. He also broke the radius bone on his right hand on the first day of practice, forcing him to sit out another five weeks.
“Not wrestling the whole year affects you,” Chaves said.
Instead of getting down on himself again, he stayed the course.
“I could either give up or work on my cardio and persevere,” Chaves said. “So I remembered what everyone taught me, got back on my path and got my priorities right. I knew I was going to wrestle and strove to get better.”
With his health back and his mind focused, Chaves feels like he’s returned to the level he was as sophomore. The 5-foot-8 senior is 31-5 on the season and recently won the 132-pound weight class at the Cobb County Invitational.
After he graduates this spring, Chaves is open to wrestling in college if the option is there for him, and Brickley is doing his best to make that a viable alternative. If that doesn’t happen, the coach has offered to take on Chaves as one of his assistants down the road.
“A few years ago, I didn’t think collegiate wrestling would be possible for him,” Brickley said. “But I’ve seen now that, not only does he have great work ethic, he also hates to lose. In my opinion, he’s a true wrestler, as opposed to an athlete who can also wrestle. He studies the sport and has grown to really love it.”
Chaves’ next goal is to repeat as a region champion and place at the state tournament. His ultimate goal is to be a state champion.
“I still have to push myself to be the best wrestler I can be,” he said. “Wrestling has taught me how to push myself. It’s also taught me that, sometimes, you’re going to fall, but you have to keep going or you’re going to fail. It’s taught me how to succeed in life.
“Without it, I don’t think I’d be the person that I am today.”