I have been, and will always be, a glutton for information. Much to my chagrin, wrestling is not like football, baseball and other mainstream sports, which means that good journalistic information on our sport is sparse. That being the case, I scour the IInternet looking diligently for articles worth reading. In my zeal, a few years ago, I happened upon this site:
I am not sure who maintains this site, but without a doubt, when it comes to intelligent, intriguing and thorough journalism as it relates to wrestling, this site is the best hands down. New articles aren't produced often enough, although I am sure that is an issue of quality versus quantity. Considering the site is obviously dedicated to Ohio Wrestling, I often thought of the same questions being asked for my home state of Florida. So, without further ado, and hopefully, the blessings of my journalistic compadres -
The Ten Unanswered Questions of the 2008-2009 Season: Florida
Who is Florida's 3rd Best Wrestler?
The state, and the rest of the nation recognizes the names of Eric Grajales and Kendrick Sanders. Sanders is a two-time Junior Greco National Champion, with an Outstanding Wrestler award to boot. Sanders is a two-time State Champion and is unlikely to be tested this season. Grajales, who recently to commited to the University of Michigan, is a former USA Wrestling Greco Athlete of the Year recipient, multiple-time Fargo Champion, and undefeated in his high school career. A year after beating Jordan Oliver at the Super 32 tournament, the wrestler ranked #1 in the nation at 135 lbs (over the much-hyped David Taylor) has nothing left to prove, and after not entering in the Super 32 this season, his first test probably won't come until Dapper Dan Classic (yes, I am assuming he gets the invite).
So beyond those two who exactly, is, or will emerge as the third best wrestler in the state. At first glance, the names are:
Gabriel Bird (Osceola; Junior)
Joe Cozart (Brandon; Junior)
Wilson Mettellus (South Dade, Senior)
Alex Eggers (Osceola; Junior)
Jacob Harmer (Gainesville, Senior)
Eric Chandler (Braddock, Senior)
It is possible that Florida's third best wrestler will not come from this list, however, it is very unlikely. Consider this,�5 of the 6�are participating in the Super 32 tournament, where they can cement themselves among the elite. Bird is a three-time state placer (4th, 5th) and recently placed 3rd at the nation's toughest tournament - the Junior Freestyle National Championships, held annually in Fargo, ND. Undoubtedly, he made himself a lot of money, scholarship-wise, and a strong showing at the Super 32 could catapult him to the top. He is in the rugged 145lb bracket along with another of Florida's elite - Mr. Joey Cozart.
Son of Russ, brother of Rocky (what, no 'R' to begin his first name??), Joey is also a multiple-time placer at Fargo. Albeit, in the less-folkstyle style of Greco, this two-time state champ has great folkstyle skills. He has just two losses on his folkstyle record, both coming in his freshman year, to defending state champ Anthony Jorge. He avenged those two losses by defeating Jorge in the state finals. Cozart has a huge gas-tank and his plethora of upper-body attacks makes him dangerous to anyone he wrestles. Make the wrong decision, get too careless, attack uncautiously and you will be on your back.
Mettellus, who transferred to South Dade a year after finishing as a State Runner-up at Monsignor Pace, has really reaped the benefits of workout partners Tico Baez and Kendrick Sanders. He has not won a State Championship, but after placing at the NHSCA Junior National tournament, defeating, among others, New York's Ian Paddock, Mettelus has jumped on a lot recruiting boards. A phenomenal athlete, who is not a typical South Dade wrestler, Mettelus, it seems, simply needs a platform, and he will do well. Registered at the second toughest weight at the Super 32, if he performs well on that platform, and makes it to the finals, or can manage to upend some of the top names in the bracket, he might be Florida's 3rd best wrestler.
Braddock Senior Eric Chandler was destined to become Dade County's first 4x State Champion until being de-railed by a game Kyle Grueninger in the State Finals. That match is on Flo for everyone to see, and let's just say that I do not agree with the officiating of that match. It is an official's job to be invisible, and that match was really taken away from the competitors. Chandler has rarely been tested in Florida, and has placed at FILA Cadets and Juniors. Included in that, is a win over PA AAA State Champion Billy Chamberlain, who is now wrestling for Old Dominion. Chandler seems likely to win a State Title this year, probably at 119 or 125. He is not wrestling at the Super 32 tournament, but I would imagine he will compete at NHSCA Senior Nationals. If he does compete at that tournament, he will place, and my personal hunch is top 4.
Former State Champ Alex Eggers, also has a chance to make waves at the Super 32. A specimen unlike most, Eggers was a State Champ as a sophomore, and was on track to capture a second, but moved up two weight classes to help the team (and his brother), and run into buzzsaw Ivan Lopuschanksy. Between Eggers and Bird, one will have to contend with Kendrick Sanders, either at 145 or 152 at the State Championships in Lakeland. Finally, my personal favorite, Jacob Harmer. Ever the bridesmaid, Harmer is a two-time third-placer finisher at the Florida State Championships. His losses have been close battles with two-time champion Vince Maul. However, Harmer is one bad call away from winning at least ONE championship, after the Zebra decided it was possible to stall TWICE in a span of 13 seconds. Don't let his lack of Freestyle/Greco achievements fool you, Harmer is a pinner who has put some of our nation's best wrestlers on their back. Included in that is a 4-2 loss to Blair Academy's Ed Ruth (where he did turn Ruth) and a first-period pin of Georgia's Ethan Blackstock. If he can manage the shark-infested waters at the Super 32 and defeat Ruth, as I have predicted, he will be Florida's 3rd best wrestler.
Will David Craig Fulfill His Vast Potential?
Considered one of, if not the greatest wrestler to leave the Sunshine State, Brandon's David Craig left with one of the largest, brightest and most complete resumes any recruit could possibly want. Four State Championships? Check. Undefeated Record? Check. Ironman Championship? Check. Beast of the East Title? Check. Fargo Double Champion? Check. Dapper Dan Winner? Check. Ranked as consensus No. 1 recruit? Check. I am sure I am missing more accolades, but the point is, Craig could do no more to cement his legacy as a potential 4x All-American and future NCAA Champion. Being the great teammate that he is, Craig wrestled up a weight at 184 lbs and still managed to make the round of 12. Fast-forward to sophomore season, and a beefed-up Craig is losing close matches to good wrestlers (Rocco Caponi, 1-3; Christian Sinnot, 2-5) and decent wrestlers (Dave Sullivan, Pitt, 2-6; Phil Bomberger, Penn State, 5-9), but not showing the improvement one would think would come from year 1 to year 2. His sophomore year was marred by October knee surgery, which, I am sure had a lot to do with lack of improvement, and after academic issues, Craig was forced to sit out the second semester. Now, as Craig enters his Junior year, Craig is either ranked outside of the top 15 or not ranked at all in most preseason polls.
Will Craig AA this year, and possibly bring home Florida's next NCAA Division I wrestling championship? Right now, word out of the Lehigh camps, Craig looks ready to go. After getting his academics in order, changing his major, and letting his knee heal, Craig is excited to wrestle for the new regime. Remember, Pat Santoro is the new head coach, and if he can do for him, what he did for Hudson Taylor at Maryland, look out world!
Who Will Inherit The Throne?
Upon the graduation of the current crop of seniors, who then, will take the crown as the state's crown jewel. I've already mentioned Joe Cozart and Gabriel Bird, and right now they are the front-runners. But who else? Other than the two I just mentioned, the most likely candidates will come from my list - Levi Clemons, Earl Hall, Rossi Bruno, Clark Glass, Chase Gordon, Wally Figaro, Mike Ettore, Geordon Speiller, Matt Nereim, Lee Wildes, and Tyler Liberatore.
It is true that I place an awful lot of credibility on the Junior and Cadet National Freestyle/Greco Championships. But as the saying goes, "It's where state champs go to die." This is not meant as a diss to my brethren who compete in folkstyle year-round, but it is hard to judge talent based on in-state results. That may be not be the case in the future, as the NHSCA Freshman, Sophomore and Junior Nationals continue to improve in competition and quality.
This past summer, Florida cemented its status as great Greco state, as Clemons, Bruno and Figaro all reached the Cadet Finals. But in reality it all starts with the Brandon Wrestling Club and their program. Glass, Bruno and Liberatore are rising freshman, Ettore and Figaro, Sophomores. Glass won a state championship as a 7th grader, but could not repeat that feat up two weight classes, at 119lbs a year ago. Brandon has a pretty complete weightlifting program, and once Glass's strength catches up with his skills, he will be mentioned as a elite national prospect. Bruno finished second in Greco Cadets, and also has a state ring to his claim. Ettore finished 6th in Greco Cadets and is a hard-charging bull of a wrestler.
Finally Double All-America Figaro. A transplant from Puerto Rico (a la Franklin Gomez), Figaro is a great athlete who placed third at states a year ago, losing to three-timer Richie Dehnz of Palmetto Ridge in the semis. Finally, Tyler Liberatore is the third middle-school state champ to enter the lineup for the Eagles this season. Word out of Brandon, is that out of the three, Liberatore may end up being the best.
Earl Hall is a former schoolboy double national titlist, who did not compete at Fargo, but still has an impressive resume. He was an undefeated state champion as a freshman, and has a win over Blair's vaunted Mike Grey. Placing high at Super 32 is must, if he wants to ascend to the throne. Gordon, Wildes and Nereim of the JETS Wrestling Club, (Nereim wrestles for Winter Springs High, Wildes and Gordon for Oviedo) are also Cadet Greco All-Americans. Gordon did not place this past summer as a first year junior, but if he can recapture the form, he has the ability to win a State Championship. It won't be easy, depending on what weight class he competes, as Mettelus, Bird, and Sanders are anywhere between 135-145, and so is he.
Wildes is a JV State Champion who is definitely a greco specialist, but we will see if his folkstyle skills have improved enough to step on the podium in Lakeland. Nereim, also, a Cadet Greco placer is also state placer, losing in the finals to South Dade's Three-Timer James "Rat" Williams. He will most likely end up at 130lbs during the season, and if so, should be the favorite to win his first State Title.
Clemons won a Cadet Greco title this past summer, and the junior to-be only placed 6th at a loaded 160lb bracket a year ago. He is the clear favorite in 3A at 171lbs this year.
My pick? After Bird and Cozart, I really like Earl Hall, with his toughness and athleticism. Should he compete in Fargo next summer, he will stake his claim as Florida's prize wrestler.
Will South Dade defeat Brandon Again?
No doubt this will be the season's best dual. A year ago, South Dade stopped Brandon's national-record dual match win streak. This year the favorites in their respective classes will battle at the super-tough District 16 Duals, just before Christmas break. South Dade returns 9 state qualifiers, while Brandon also returns 9 state qualifiers and ADDS 4 former state champions. I have not been able to confirm Earl Hall's transfer to South Dade, and at present, it seems unlikely. Nonetheless, the Bucs did add Andres Montero, Isaiah Varona and Robert Rojas. I'm not sure where these guys fit into the lineup, but this dual is going to be a barn-burner from the start. Here are some of the great, possible matchups, and remember, even though some of the Bucs do not have great national credentials, they are senior-laden, athletic and well-coached.
Maurico Villanueva vs Ryan Renkey/Terry Dawson/Sean Padgett
Quintavian McPherson vs Rossi Bruno
Josh Williams vs Tyler Liberatore/Clark Glass
Wilson Mettelus vs Eric Grajales/Nick Hutchinson
Elyse Fontaine vs Eric Grajales/Nick Hutchinson
Kendrick Sanders vs Joe Cozart/Kevin Timothy
Luis Montalvo vs Zaq Berridge/Mike Ettore/Wally Figaro
Stephon Moore vs Zaq Berridge/Mike Ettore/Wally Figaro
The dual meet will be decided in the light weights, as a classic match-up of youth vs experience will play itself out.
Who won't make Brandon's line-up?
Brandon has a problem that only a few wrestling programs in this nation have (and that includes college). How do you fit 14 good wrestlers into 9 weight classes? Here is what Brandon returns:
Ryan Renkey (AZ state champion) 112
Sean Padgett (State runner-up) 112
Terry Dawson (State runner-up) 112
Rossi Bruno (State Champion) 119
Tyler Liberatore (State Champion) 125
Clark Glass (State Champion) 130
Eric Grajales (Everything) 135
Nick Hutchinson (State Runner-up) 140
Tom Timothy (State Champion) 145
Joe Cozart (State Champion) 145
Wally Figaro (State Third) 152
Keith Koziel (State Fifth) 152
Zaq Berridge (State Third) 160
Mike Ettore (State Qualifier) 160
At first glance, it will be interesting to see if any of Brandon's great 112lbers can even make 103. My bet is on Renkey. So now a battle ensues between Padgett and Dawson for the spot at 112. That's one State Runner-up will NOT be in the lineup. Next up is the logjam and 145 and 152. Between Cozart and Timothy, I like Cozart's chances at 152 better. Not by a large margin, but Cozart will be able to handle all the state's 152lbers save one, Kendrick Sanders. I think Berridge wins the spot at 160, and even if Ettore moves up to 189, either Figaro or Koziel will be out of the lineup and severely under-weight at 171lbs (and so, for that matter, will Ettore). Coach Cozart will do what's best for the team, and, unfortunately, some very talented, accomplished and deserving wrestlers will not be wrestling in the postseason.
How many State Champs will Brandon Have?
Brandon seems to be a shoo-in to at least match their own state record of six state champions in one year. The question is, can they beat their own record (which they've set twice)? Best case scenario:
Renkey - 103
Padgett/Dawson - 112
Bruno - 119
Liberatore - 125
Glass - 130
Grajales - 135
Hutchinson - 140
Timothy - 145
Cozart - 152
Berridge - 160
That's a possible 10 champs with 5 automatics, in Renkey (if he gets there), Bruno, Grajales, Timothy and Cozart. Padgett/Dawson is pretty close to automatic, while Liberatore, Glass, Hutchinson and Berridge will wait to see what the rest of Class 2A brings to the table.
Who will win Class 1A?
A year ago, Scotti Sentes and his Riverdale teammates ran roughshod through the Class 1A bracket. A senior-laden team, the likelihood of them taking home another championship seems near-impossible. This year, the smallest division in Florida's 3-class system seems to be more wide-open than at any time in recent memory. The clear favorite is Clay High (Green Cove Springs) who may add a second State Championship trophy this decade. They return the 7 State Qualifiers, more than any other team. They also added transfer State Qualifier Jason Wojcik. They are led by perennial Bridesmain Garret Soileau and the athletically gifted Kyle Mills.
With 5 returning State Qualifiers, Panhandle Wakulla returns 5 state qualifiers, led by State Runnerup, and current sophomore Tre McCullough. Coach Frank Pettineo and Cardinal Gibbons return 4 State Qualifiers, but that is just the start. Expect them to bring at least 8 to Lakeland. State Runner-up Frank Pettineo leads the Chiefs on their quest to bring home another State Team Title. Suwannee's biggest loss comes from losing Hall of Fame Coach David Laxton. Returning 3 state qualifiers, Laxton's son Travis, and returning 3rd-placer is the headliner on a depleted Bulldog squad. A healthy middle school program does exist, however, so it will interesting to see who steps up.
Clay, while the favorite, has a semis jinx. A year ago, they had four state semi-finalists and none made it to the finals. If they can find a way to get 4 in the finals this year, however, they may run away with the title.
Who Will Finish Second in 2A and 3A?
It's a foregone conclusion that the races for the Team Titles in 2a and 3A are complete with Brandon and South Dade, respectively, returning too much firepower for any other team to compete. Brandon, in fact, will win a State Title for at least the next 4 years, as they continue to replenish themselves through the Brandon Wrestling Club, which annually produces kids' State and National Champions. In fact, Brandon's next great (Grajales, Gomez, Craig, etc) may in fact be the Lucas Brothers, who, I believe are about 4 years away from competing for Brandon High School. Re-load the pistol Cozart!
Contenders for second place in 2A are Manatee, Springstead, and Palmetto Ridge. Manatee and their Head Coach Andy "Gug" Gugliemini have been doing the hard work these past years, establishing a strong and numerous kids wrestling club. A club that produced its first State Champion in Alex Doran. The Hurricanes only return 5 state qualifiers, but don't let that fool you. A senior-laden team a year ago, Manatee's kids club will fill in nicely.
As Rome was not built in a day, Springstead has been building. Much in the same way Coach Gug has made the kids club a priority, so too has Head Coach Eric Swensen. He will have two Fargo All-Americans on this year's squad, in brothers Nick and Dustin Soto. Incoming freshman Cody Ross is a former Kids' National Champion and should be a 4-time state placer. Palmetto Ridge also has a large kids club and it will be interesting to see who replaces former State Champs Zack Mastro, Richie Dehnz and Elias Rey. State Champion Cody Singletary returns, and is pretty big from what I hear. Expect a Singletary-Bruno match in the finals.
In 3A the chase for second is led by Osceola, Oviedo, American and Columbus. Osceola is the clear favorite for the Second-Place trophy. Consider, besides, the aforementioned Bird, Eggers and Clemons, they return State Champ Pete Baldwin, State Placer Matt Jones, and State Qualifier Robert Strader. They also picked up two transfers in the Locksmith brothers, with the eldest, Joe, being a returning State Qualifier. Younger brother Timothy should qualify and at the least score some points in Lakeland.
American returns 4 State Qualifiers three of whom placed a year ago. The fourth, David Castillo was a potential placer but forfeited his first two matches after injuring himself at Regionals the week before. Former 4-time defending State Champs, Oviedo are also an enigma. The potential is there, with 5 returning State Qualifiers, including State Placer Davin Morris. The Lions also add transfers Joey Hefley and Jay Taylor. Taylor will place high at 189. The all-boys school, Columbus, coached by Hall-of-Famer Jim Husk return 5 state qualifiers, with Placers Jake Rio and George Gulesian.
In the battle for 2nd, expect Manatee (2A) and Osceola (3A) to take those trophies.
Bridesmaid to Bride?
Four seniors alway seem to be one step away from the podium, and this is their last year to taste and savor a State Championship. Jacob Harmer, Wilson Mettelus, Jacob Gregory and Soileau all seem to find the top spot at Lakeland to be their unicorn. Harmer is two-time 3rd placer, each time losing to eventual State Champion Vince Maul. Mettelus is a two-time Runner-up first as a sophomore at Monsignor Pace, losing to Michael Calafiore; and last year at South Dade, losing to the talented Michael Nates of Hialeah. Gregory is also a two-time runner up, losing as a sophomore to Florida King Eric Grajales, and as a junior to Wade Consul.
Soileau seemingly started the semi-final curse that currently plagues Clay High. As a rising freshman, it was assumed he would win 4 titles, and each year he came agonizingly close. He has lost in the state semis every single year he has competed. First, as a freshman, being pinned by Merrit Burrus of Suwannee after trying to roll through a cradle (a kid he had beaten the week prior by technical fall). As a sophomore he ran into current Michigan State Wrestler and 2x State Champion Colby Borchetta. His junior year, he was bested by Daphilo Success of Glade Central.
Harmer will march to a title with no problem, as I see no one in the state of Florida who can beat Harmer (and that includes 189). He was close to pinning all of his opponents a year ago, and I imagine will come close, if not achieve that feat this year. Mettelus may have a tougher road, although its not clear who may challenge him. Possible candidates include Osceola's Joe Locksmith, Winter Springs Matt Nereim, Columbus' George Gulesian, Countryside's Austin Figari, and Oviedo's Chase Gordon. While he may have more POTENTIAL challengers, I don't see anyone stopping Mettelus from winning his first State Title.
Gregory competes in class 2A with his Manatee brethren, and as such, will have to contend with either Bruno or Liberatore of Brandon. He has a tough road between either of those wrestlers. I'm not sure how much separation there is between the two, in terms of ability, but I would venture to say that Gregory's experience could deliver him that elusive State Title. Gregory should have a couple of chances to wrestle Bruno/Liberatore during the season, for sure at the District 16 Duals, and possibly at the Ippolito Tourney, if Manatee attends. The sentimental part of me wants to believe Gregory will ascend to the top of the throne, but he will have a battle from either of the two Brandon kids.
Last, we have my good friend Garret Soileau. I've watched him wrestle since the 8th grade, and you just knew he would be a multiple-time state champ. His father was a State Runner-up himself, and the genes passed on quite well. Each year, however Soileau just seems to either make a mistake or not wrestle at his best in the semis. His freshman year, it was a costly mistake, and his sophomore and junior seasons, he wrestled that guys, that I think, he beats 9 out of 10 times, if they wrestle. It just so happened that that one time was on the night it meant the most. Soileau has no true challenger at this point, and will probably wrestle 135. My heart says pick Soileau to catch his elusive State Title, and my head says he will.
Who is the best wrestler in 1A?
This throne was vacated by Central Michigan signee Scotti Sentes. The first name that comes to mind is Soileau and after that - Kevin Norstrem (Tampa Bay Christian), Travis Laxton, Frank Pettineo, and Tre McCollough seem the likeliest of candidates. Norstrem, of the Brandon Farm System will wrestle one year as an 8th grader at Tampa Bay Christian. The FILA Cadet National Champion will win state if he competes at 103, putting him in line to be a 5x State Champion. However if he wrestles at 112 he will have a rough time with Laxton. Tough, ornery and a great rider, this battle might be the match of the night in 1A. Pettineo and McCollough return as state finalists, with McCollough loss in the finals coming to Sentes. Just a freshman, after the graduation/moving ons of the other names, McCollough, with the possibility, of three state titles could be the best wrestler in Class 1A.
In the end, I believe Soileau will ascend to his rightful place as not only State Champ, but as the best wrestler in Class 1A. He is great pinner, and this being his swan song, expect a banner year as he leads his Clay High teammates on a quest for a Team State Title.