Before a practice or a wrestling match, Cayden Dotson looks down at his shoes.

On his right one there is a date. It reads “5-13-2018,” it’s a reminder to him on why he is wrestling and how he got started.

That date is the day Dotson’s father Chris passed away from a heart attack. Cayden was living in Atchison, Kansas, at the time, and he moved to Blue Springs with his mother afterward.

“It was rough because me and my dad were super close,” said Dotson, a sophomore at Blue Springs High School. “”He’s why I got into wrestling and was a big part of my life.”

He’s dedicating his season to his father, and so far, Dotson is putting together his best one yet. So far, the sophomore is 36-4 and is listed as an honorable mention in the Class 4, 106-pound division in the missouriwrestling.com rankings.

Chris, who was a baseball player in high school, picked up interest in wrestling when Cayden was younger. He researched the sport and ended up coaching Cayden up until his freshman year at Atchison High School.

Dotson had a strong freshman year with just 10 losses before he broke his hand in practice during the week of districts in Kansas.

“It was good,” Dotson said of his season. “I was a small 106. I wrestled guys that were bigger and would lose close matches to those kids. I lost by 1 or 2 points. I was just undersized. I had to watch kids I beat place at state.

“I had to use my speed and good technique. I didn’t have a lot of room for error. I’d out-scramble a lot of kids”

In the offseason, Dotson worked hard in the weight room to gain strength. He trained at Rise Up Fitness in Atchison with Josh Donovan, and it helped him become one of the stronger 106-pounders in Missouri.

“He was the best trainer I have ever worked with,” Dotson said. ‘He helped me a lot and got me stronger.”

Blue Springs head coach Bobbe Lowe said he received an email and phone letting him know that Dotson was moving to the area and that he’d be joining the team. The veteran coach said he didn’t know what to expect, but has been pleased with what Dotson has done.

“It’s been a bonus for us,” Lowe said. “Sometimes you get excited and think it’s a diamond in the rough or a superstar. Sometimes they pan out to be good kids and sometimes they don’t pan out to be much. I think with Cayden’s situation and his mom living here and him being a wrestler and him being a big part of our program, it’s been a bonus for both of us.”

Dotson echoed those sentiments. He said training with Lowe and the rest of the Wildcats has made him a better wrestler. He also said the quality of competition has been better since moving to Missouri.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, I didn’t know a lot of kids in Missouri,” Dotson said. ‘The practices are a lot more intense than last year.

“Coach Lowe just knows how to run a practice a lot better than when I was in Atchison. We do a lot more conditioning and it helps keep my weight down.

“Competitions are a lot more fun to me. In Kansas, they just put your name on the board and you had to wait for your match to be there. In Missouri, it’s just run better.”

Added Lowe: “He came in and knew it would be tougher and he’s accepted the challenge. He was coming to a big school in Missouri. He had a great win last night (against Lee’s Summit North’s Caden Schweitzer) while stepping up to a different weight class (113) and beating a kid who’s ranked fifth.”

Lowe added that he has seen some major improvements from Dotson since the start of the season.

“He came in here with a slick, reserved style,” Lowe said. “He’s opened up more and has learned to use his strengths more. He’s opened up and is scoring more points. His results are speaking for themself.”

Added Dotson: “I get to a high crotch and a sweep single better than I did last year. Last year, my go-to move was just an ankle pick, getting under their legs and out-scrambling them. This year, I’ve gotten better at underhooks, getting to my sweep and getting to my high crotch.”

In just eight days, Dotson and the other Wildcats will begin their quest to state starting with the Class 4 District 4 tournament. With the postseason on the horizon, the sophomore has set some high goals for himself.

“I want to win state,” he said. “It will take a lot of hard work. At 106, I am bigger than a lot of kids, so that will help.”

And even while chasing that goal, Dotson isn’t about to forget why he’s there in the first place. He just has to look at his shoes.

“I know he’s always there,” Dotson said of his father. “He was just a big part of my life. Going out there and competing is how I dedicate everything to him.”