Pin and win. 

That's about all Fulton wrestler Eli Pannell does these days. The senior boasts an intimidatingly sturdy build and dominates his weight class at 220 lbs. 

"My mentality is that no one can beat me," Pannell said.  "I'm the man and no one is going to prove me otherwise."

It hasn't always been that way, though. Starting in seventh grade, Pannell was starting from scratch just like any ordinary athlete. 

"I wasn't very good when I first started, seventh grade year," Pannell said. 

In a mentally challenging sport like wrestling, it was his work ethic that set him apart. He realized and admitted that he wasn't the best out there, but set it as a goal to be the best one day. 

"It's one thing that works for Eli and all other guys who have found success, it's off-season," Fulton head coach Chris Grant said.  "Going to do freestyle, going to do tournaments and wrestling the best kids in this area and we have the best. Go get beat up by them and you get better."

His hard work started showing last year as a junior. Not only did Pannell qualify for the Illinois High School State Wrestling Tournament, but he grabbed some hardware, too. 

"It's just amazing, the feeling of being in the center of the IHSA mats," Pannell said. 

His eyes are now set on a similar ending. 

"I don't want to have any losses. I want to win state. I want the majority of my losses to be pins."

He's well on his way so far. The senior has only won a handful of matches any way other than a pin, and notched his 100th varsity career win in late December during a double-dual in Camanche. The crowd, waiting for the moment his hand was held up, had banners and signs ready to congratulate him.

"It felt amazing. The crowd cheering, it was unbelievable," Pannell said. 

"He's just a stud," Coach Grant said that day. 

Plus, he's closing in on the all-time pin record at Fulton High School. All more accolades to grab before leaving his prep career behind. 

"I'm going to win and nothing is going to stop me," Pannell said. 

He's a football player, too. In fact, he doesn't know which sport he wants to continue in college. He loves them both for different reasons. When it comes to wrestling, it's that feeling of personal accomplishment that comes when the whistle is blown. 

"It's the feeling of a victory," Pannell said. "It's not a team sport so if you win or lose it's all on you. It's way different. It's just awesome."

For now, it's continuing his consistent wrestling: pin and win. It's the type of mentality that will take him to Champaign come February and get him on the podium. 

So, even if he wasn't always the dominant force on the mat that you see today, the work he's done over the years has paid off. He's right where he wants to be. 

"He went out there and lost a lot. Good wrestlers do, we lose a lot," Chris Grant said.  "That's how you get better, you figure out how to win."