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By the time he entered high school, Darian Kess was already*a legend in the making.

Though he weighed less than 100 pounds and was only 14 years old, Kess*carried with him a large reputation, thanks to his four junior league*state wrestling championships and the smooth, almost effortless style*with which he dispatched opponents.

He did not disappoint. He shattered Archbishop Curley?s four-year*takedown record in little more than one year. He captured two state*titles in two seasons. And, in one year alone, he managed to beat*seven wrestlers ranked in the top 10 in the country.

?He was the best I?ve ever seen wrestle,? says high school teammate*Kevin Artis, who went on to be a two-time All-American in college.

Darian Kess could have gone on to finish high school as a four-time*state champ (a rare accomplishment in Maryland). He could have gone on*to be a star in college. He could have used wrestling to get an*advanced degree. He could have done a lot of things with the special*skills he had.

Instead, at age 27, Kess died last month in a bed at Johns Hopkins*Hospital. He had been stabbed during a robbery, another casualty of*Baltimore?s seemingly unending pattern of violence.

Kess? death warranted a small mention in local newspapers, no more*than a few sentences. He was now a statistic, homicide No. 71 of*2011. But each murder victim is immeasurably more than just a cause of*death and a block number and another notch in the murder tally ?*typically the last things we read about them. Each victim had hopes*and dreams and promise. Each has a story.

Darian?s story is of a special kid with unique athletic abilities.*It?s a story about the easy wrong and the hard right. It?s a story*about beating cancer. It?s a story about finding meaning in*fatherhood. It?s a story about trying to get right with God. And,*ultimately, it?s a story about tragedy.

Unafraid of anyone
It was luck that landed Darian Kess in wrestling. His stepfather,*Charles Moses, was getting something to eat at a local pit beef stand*manned by famed Golden Ring junior league wrestling coach Tom DiCarlo,*who talked him into bringing the boy out to a practice.

Right away, it was obvious that Kess was a natural.

?Darian was 8 years old when he walked in our wrestling room,? says*former Golden Ring coach Will Summers, better known as ?Coach Peanut.?*?Darian was something special. When he walked in, a star was born.?

While most wrestlers take years to learn the sport ? with its hundreds*of combinations of positions, moves and techniques ? Kess picked it up instantly.

His first year wrestling, weighing only 50 pounds, he finished second*at the junior league states. Each of the next four years, he won youth*league state titles.

Any Maryland wrestler who defeated him, such as future standout*wrestlers at Harvard and Boston University, Kess would quickly figure*out and beat at the next meeting. He chased Blair Academy star Cory*Cooperman at the finals of the National Preps, though most believed he*would have been a heavy favorite up a weight class at 119.

A four-time National Prep champion, Cooperman says he was shaken when*he heard of Kess? death.

?Darian wrestled me tougher than anyone else in the country,?*Cooperman recalled this week. ?We had a mutual respect for each other.*He got caught up in his environment, but he was a great person as*well.?

Perhaps it wasn?t that much of a surprise that Kess become so dominant*so quickly in wrestling. As a child, he always had a special blend of*fearlessness and that intangible quality found in many great athletes*best described as ?a sense of where you are.?

Before he had legs long enough to touch the pedals on a bike, a young*Darian Kess would go zooming down the road, using hills and poles to*stop his momentum. He mastered snowboarding on his first try,
advancing to expert courses. His first time waterskiing, he kicked off*a ski and did it on one foot. If he traveled somewhere once, he always*knew the route the next time. When he got in trouble, his mother would*make him stand on one leg for hours as a punishment. Darian made it*look easy.

Still, rarely in life does someone find something they?re that good at*and, once Kess realized his talent for wrestling, he dedicated himself*to the sport.

?It was his destiny,? Charles Moses says.

Continue Reading Darian?s Story at the Baltimore Sun