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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Bruno - 119
Glass - 130
Grajales - 135
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.