CARTHAGE — Fombo Azah and Collin “Bubba” Null have been close teammates as they worked their way up through the Carthage wrestling program.
Null has wrestled at the varsity level since eighth grade before Azah joined the team as a freshman.
“I kind of encouraged him to wrestle back then and he kind of got hooked on wrestling in the long run,” Null recalled about Azah. “He just kind of stuck with it and he just keeps getting better every time he steps on the mat.”
Now seniors, the pair’s wrestling career continue to mirror each other this season for the Comets.
“We went to every tournament together,” Azah said. “Compared to the rest of the team, we made it to states, and we both did pretty well last year. I think we’ve mirrored each other pretty well.”
Starting last year, both broke through in their respective careers as each won Section 3 Class A individual titles and then Section 3 Division I championships to qualify for the state championship meet for the first time.
Now Azah, who wrestles at 182 pounds, and Null, a heavyweight, are poised to attempt to repeat these accomplishments, starting with the sectional Class A meet this Saturday at Watertown High School.
“I think it’s going pretty good,” Null said. “I just feel like me and Fombo are firing on all cylinders right now and Thomas Albright is doing well, too, so I think we’re on a pretty good run.”
If they both qualify this weekend, each will compete in the Section 3 Division I meet on Feb. 15 at SRC Arena in Syracuse as both vie to return to the state tournament.
Both three-sport athletes, Azah and Null were key contributors on Carthage’s run to the Class A state final in football in November, the first appearance in a state title game in program history.
“It was historic,” Azah said. “It took a pretty good chunk out of our wrestling season, but you don’t really get a chance to do what we did during football season. So we enjoyed that whole experience, the whole community did.”
Azah, a tailback, rushed for 2,552 yards and 36 touchdowns, with Null, a lineman on both sides of the ball, helping to open up spaces for Azah to run rampant.
“It was really unreal, the season, and because a lot of the yards he had, he was in there behind me,” Null said of Azah. “It was just a great feeling because he broke the record and he looked at me and said ‘I couldn’t really have done this without all of you guys,’”
Now the pair is leading the Comets wrestling team, which is 13-2 on the season, including a 7-1 showing in the Frontier League.
“It’s really heating up right now, we’re firing on all cylinders and we’re ready to go to try and compete for another section title,” Null said. “I feel like as a team we can shock a lot of people. We have really good kids, we have kids who go out there and don’t know how to stop.”
This season on the mat, the pair also have similar records so far, as Azah is 29-4, including 11 of those by pin, while Null stands at 29-3, with 13 wins by fall.
“They’ve both put in their time for a while here,” Carthage wrestling coach Don Dorchester said of Azah and Null. “Also, they’ve kind of came up through and paid their dues pretty well and it’s kind of paying off for them in the end here.”
While close friends, Azah and Null bring different wrestling styles to the mat.
“Fombo is a little bit lighter, but he’s more explosive,” Dorchester said. “He kind of sits back and he’s tactical, but when he goes, it’s fast and it’s to the point and he knows what he’s doing.”
He continued: “Bubba’s more of a strategic type of guy, but he likes to wear people out. He uses conditioning, he like to keeps his matches closer. He’s got other stuff in his arsenal, but he kind of likes to wear a guy out before he kind of decides what he’s going to do.”
According to Null: “Myself, I feel like sometimes I’m a little defensive. But sometimes when I want to just go get it done, I just go get it done. Fombo’s just go, go, go, he doesn’t stop. He has one speed and that’s full speed.”
So far this season, Azah has won the Thomas Chickanis Memorial Tournament in Hudson Falls on Dec. 21, the Teike-Bernabi Tournament in Spencerport on Dec. 27 and the Ross Kordell Rotary Tournament in Oneonta on Jan. 3, and finished second his weight class in the Frontier League championship tournament at Indian River on Jan. 25.
“I think it’s going good this season, right now,” Azah said. “I’m doing pretty well so far, I’ve lost a few times, but it wasn’t to anybody I shouldn’t have lost to. But there are also people that I can definitely beat.”
Null won both the Thomas Chikanis and Teike-Bernabi tournaments, finished second in the Ross Kordell tournament, then placed fifth at the Eastern States Classic downstate in Sullivan County on Jan. 10, before winning the Frontier League tournament heavyweight title, with a pin of Copenhagen’s Josh Freeman in one minute and 40 seconds in the final.
“I think it’s going pretty good,” Null said. “I think we’re hitting our stride at the right time.”
While both were standouts on the football team, Azah’s third sport is in the spring on the track team, as he’s competed primarily in sprint events, such as the 100- and 200- meter dashes.
“Track helps keep my muscles and everything in shape,” Azah said. “But I know wrestling has really helped me a lot in football, like if I’m running the ball and someone comes to grab me, I can do little things that I use in wrestling to brush off any defenders coming at me.
“So just little things like that, and character wise it’s helped me stay mentally strong, wrestling has and football.”
Football remains Azah’s favorite sport, but he’s experienced much from wrestling.
“I really enjoy the one-on-one thing,” Azah said of wrestling. “Because it gives everybody their own chance in their own spot. So if you’re the better wrestler, you can go out and prove it.
“It taught me a lot of things, how to face my fears and that. There were a lot of positions I didn’t like being in, but as I went on with it, I got used to it. It’s really helped me become a better person, a better man, everything, mentally tougher.”
Null has starred on Carthage’s lacrosse team, primarily as a defender, but Dorchester encouraged him to join the track team last spring.
Fellow senior Thomas Albright, who also played on the football team, is also eying a potential run to the state wrestling tournament.
“He’s another one that has a really good opportunity to go to states,” Dorchester said of Albright, who wrestles at 170 pounds.
“States was an experience in itself,” Null said. “The atmosphere there is just unreal, it’s such high-caliber wrestling, the scene there was really something.”
In keeping with their similar paths, both Azah and Null lost their only two matches, respectively, last year at the state wrestling tournament in Albany.
“Even at states, we both went 0-2 and didn’t do as well,” Azah said. “But we’re looking to fix some things and do a lot better then we did last year. So hopefully we can push each other like we did last year.”
“Obviously, we have to get past sectionals first,” said Dorchester, “but the goal is to place at states or be at the top of that podium and be state champions. That’s what we train for and that’s kind of what we expect, whose going to be the next guy to pick up where the other people left off.”
Null’s older brother Caleb Null won a Section 3 title in 2017 in the 220-pound weight class and went on to finish sixth at states, the last Carthage wrestler to place at states.
“He taught me that if you want something, you have to go get it,” Null said of his brother Caleb. “Nothing is going to be handed to you.”
This time, they hope for a better showing, but first they’ll have to conquer their competition in Section 3 once again to get there.
“It motivates me,” Null said. “Because we have a board in our (wrestling) room that shows our section champs and our state place finishers. I see my brother up there, but I don’t see my name up there yet. I see it as, ‘I’ve got to get better, I’ve got to get back there and I’ve got to finish the job this time.’”
Dorchester added: “We’re pretty fortunate to have quite a few good kids come through the program. And these two, they’re unique kids in the way that they represent themselves. What they do off the mat is just as important as what they do on the mat.”