There was never any question who the alpha dog was in the Carrollton High School wrestling room this winter.
Senior standout Nick Voiles served as the undisputed leader among the Trojan grapplers from the very first day of workouts to the final day of the season. Because not only could he talk the talk, the veteran light weight could also walk the walk.
Spearheading the transition into Class AAAAA and a loaded area, Voiles, the 2016-17 Times-Georgian All-Area Lower Weight Wrestler of the Year, powered through area and sectionals to capture a second-place finish on the state stage in Macon this past February.
And for Carrollton head coach Michael Cleek, his senior star proved to be a shining example of what you want from your captain.
"Nick Voiles is the leader of our wrestling room. I don't know what we're going to do without him. He has been a model of how a wrestler should work, how a wrestler should conduct himself, both on and off the mat. He's the kind of young man that you want your son to be like when they grow up because you know that he can be accounted on in a tough spot and that he's going to make the right decision even though it's not popular," Cleek said.
"That's the kind of guy that Nick Voiles is. And because he has that kind of character, it's a reflection of his parents raising a good, young man and it came out on the wrestling mat. When things got tough and it looked like all the cards were down, he found a way."
Cleek needed to reflect no further than the semifinal match in the state tournament, where all signs pointed to Voiles falling in a heartbreaker. But once again, he found a way to get his hand raised one more time.
"That kid he was up against was just incredible. Nick had every reason in the world to just be happy with getting third or fourth, but he didn't have it in him to quit, he didn't have it in him to lay down and he wrestled that kid's rear end off," Cleek said. "It's probably one of the proudest moments I've ever had as a wrestling coach watching him pull that match out."
Even though Voiles didn't get the storybook finish of a state championship, there's not much he didn't achieve during his high school career. And he certainly walked off the mat in Macon with his head held high and with no regrets.
"I didn't get to achieve my ultimate goal, but I definitely feel like I succeeded this season. I made a lot of accomplishments and I upset a lot of people and won matches that I shouldn't have and just worked my tail off," Voiles said.
And being able to lead a contingent of 10 Trojans to Macon during his final season is something Voiles will never forget.
"It was an honor to have just to see all the other guys look up to me for help and look to me for moral support. Just knowing that I was top dog and that I was a leader for the team, it was a blessing," Voiles said.
Of course, in order to reach the state stage, Carrollton faced the trivial task of navigating through an area that was full of land mines across all weight classes, most notably from state powers Woodland and Cass.
"It was a tough area to get out of there as a team. We definitely had two of the top-five teams in the state just right there. Our area was scary. It was scary at first, but we all pulled through and wrestled well," Voiles said.
Voiles wasn't some overnight sensation for the Carrollton program, either. He climbed his way to the top behind years of hard work behind the scenes. When everyone else was going home, he was back on the grind.
"I was in the gym from probably 4 o'clock to probably 10 o'clock at night. Just practice to work to practice. Just working my tail off," Voiles said.
And it was that type of dedication that made Voiles' voice one his teammates would respond to when the situation presented itself. In the sport of wrestling, leadership entails much more than just barking orders.
"In football, the quarterback can tell people what to do and they do it. In wrestling, you can tell somebody what to do and they don't always listen to you very well. What they want is someone who's going to go out and lead by example. Someone who when they say work hard, he's the hardest-working guy in the room. When they say he wrestles hard, he wrestles harder than anyone we've got," Cleek said. "That's the kind of kid that Nick Voiles is."
Now that his wrestling career is over, Voiles is hopeful of leading in a different light in becoming a special education teacher and a high school coach.
Cleek believes it's the perfect career path for his top grappler.
"I would hope that one day Nick Voiles graduates from whatever college he hopes to attend and he comes back and he's the guy that takes me and [assistant] coach [Jeff] Sharp's place," Cleek said. "He's that kind of guy. I have that much faith in him."
Wherever the future takes him, Voiles knows he'll always carry a big piece of Carrollton in his heart.
"To have the Black and Gold on, it's an honor," Voiles said. "Wrestling for this school and this city, it was something else."