Matthew Fee, a junior on the Fountain Valley High wrestling team, is as honest as they come.
After winning the 220-pound title in the CIF Southern Section Northern Division individual wrestling championships at Perris Citrus Hill High on Feb. 9, Fee said he would have considered the tournament a success if he had just made it to the second day.
Instead, a wild underdog story unfolded, with the unseeded junior taking out the first, second, fourth and fifth seeds in his bracket to win a CIF title.
Fountain Valley won the Northern Division team title 201-179.5 over Citrus Hill, a feat that Barons coach Dennis Piramo is sure would not have happened without Fee’s contributions.
Barons sophomore Dylan Zotea was the second seed in the 152-pound weight class, but he injury defaulted in the quarterfinals. Fountain Valley needed to get some unexpected points.
“Someone had to do something,” Piramo said. “I always say this, ‘It’s usually the kids that you don’t expect it that win people titles.’ The buzzer-beaters, the home runs. The guy that doesn’t really do it often, when they do it, that’s when you know you’re doing pretty good overall as a team.
“You need those types of individuals on teams. I’m glad that it came out that day, so now we get to live with it forever.”
The title marked Fountain Valley’s second in the section individual wrestling championships since 2015.
Many members of the Fountain Valley wrestling program enter high school having already acquired extensive experience in the sport. Fee is the exception on the varsity team, one of the few to have begun his career at the lower levels.
He was convinced to join the wrestling program in his freshman year of high school by his friend Connor Williams, a junior varsity wrestler for the Barons.
A past that included gymnastics has proven advantageous for Fee against his fellow upper-weight wrestlers, but his lack of experience in wrestling allows for self-doubt to creep in.
“A lot of it is based on appearance and looks,” Fee said. “A lot of my problems are that I see kids that look bigger than me, and I get scared.”
Barons assistant coach Alex Damschen, a 2015 graduate of Fountain Valley, met Fee in his freshman year. Damschen said he has rarely discussed the mental side of the sport with Fee, but he said he exhibits a quality that all great underdogs are made of.
“He comes up to me before every match and goes, ‘This guy is probably going to beat me, but I might as well try,’ ” Damschen said. “That’s where it comes from is that he kind of has the mindset that he’s got nothing to lose anyway, so he might as well go out there and work. That paid off for him.”
The ability to continue wrestling when the odds seem to be against him served Fee well in the quarterfinals, when he erased a 7-1 deficit in the third period against Corona del Mar sophomore Emilio Franco. Fee pulled off the upset, recording a pin with three seconds remaining.
In winning a CIF championship, Fee placed in a tournament for just the second time this season. His best finish had been fourth place in the Cossarek Classic at Westminster High on Dec. 1.
A Cinderella run like the one Fee had at the Northern Division finals should serve as a boost of confidence. On the whole, wrestling has served that purpose for Fee.
“That I should trust myself a lot more than I do,” Fee said of what the sport has taught him. “I don’t have a lot of self-confidence, but winning a lot of these matches has helped me feel better.”
Fee has a number of quirks to his persona. While he enjoys movies and video games, Fee is also a teenage boy who refers to himself as “the weirdo with the pink headgear.”
In another rarity, Fee said that he reads school books to help himself go to sleep.
“I’m one of the weird kids that actually reads the book to fall asleep,” Fee said. “I’ll be lying in bed, and I’ll just pull out the book and read it.
“Right now, we’re reading ‘The Great Gatsby.’ We’re supposed to be in Chapter 3, and I’m in Chapter 8.”
By that account, Fee sounded like a teacher’s pet, but that was before the story became almost too honest.
“I’m not the most disciplined kid,” Fee said. “I do good on tests, but I don’t do [much] homework. I should do it.”
Fee’s coaches have seen enough to get excited about his potential for his senior year. Piramo believes that Fee is among those a college coach should take a look at.
“Matt Fee is probably one of those guys that a college coach would like to recruit,” Piramo said. “He’s raw. He’s got size on him. He’s a sleeper. He’s not really attached to bad habits yet. He’s still moldable.”
Born: July 1, 2002
Height: 6 feet 1
Weight: 222 pounds
Coach: Dennis Piramo
Favorite food: Buffalo wings
Favorite movie: “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part”
Favorite athletic moment: In his first year of varsity wrestling as a sophomore, Fee recorded a pin of Edison’s Jovanni Page to clinch a seventh straight Sunset League title for Fountain Valley.