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Manny Rojas immediately checked his phone as he awoke on June 15 — and not in the groggy manner that many people begin their mornings.
One of the nation's best upper-weight sophomores last season, Rojas was wide-eyed and excited. After all, this was the day college coaches could begin contacting Class of 2022 recruits.
The Detroit Catholic Central state champion, 32nd on the 2022 Big Board and sixth among those 182 pounds and above, was expecting calls, but this many? Already?
"That first day of college recruiting was crazy," he said. "I had five calls before 7:30 a.m. and then, before I knew it, there were four more. I'd say it's been an average of about three calls a day."
The list of schools showing interest in Rojas includes Iowa, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Purdue, Indiana, and Campbell.
That's hardly surprising considering his credentials.
Rojas finished the high school season with a 46-1 record and the 189-pound, Division I state championship, a rare accomplishment. Freshman and sophomore Division I wrestlers in Michigan just don't win state titles in the three highest weight classes (currently 189, 215 and 285).
In fact, Rojas became the first in 19 years. The last was Grandville's Ryan Gritter, who captured the first of three straight 275-pound championships as a sophomore in 2001. He later became a two-time All-American and two-time MAC champion at Central Michigan.
Penn State recruit Alex Facundo of Davison, third on the Class of 2021 Big Board, handed Rojas his lone loss, taking an 11-4 decision at the Brecksville Holiday Tournament. Rojas later placed third.
In all, 41 of Rojas' 46 victories earned bonus points and he went 5-1 against Michigan state finalists. He has twice made cadet freestyle finals in Fargo.
"It's not easy for freshmen or sophomores in the upper weights because they are wrestling more upper classmen, but Manny won a state title through belief in himself and hard work," DCC coach Mitch Hancock said. "He is also a great athlete. Clearly, Manny was going to garner interest from top colleges."
Rojas' athleticism has not gone unnoticed by the football coaching staff at DCC, a powerhouse that has made the playoffs in 16 of the past 20 seasons, including four state championships. He has been the subject of their recruiting efforts as well.
"They have been trying to get me on the football team, but I've told them I'm just a wrestler," Rojas said. "That's my focus."
Rojas has remained focused throughout this unusual offseason in which the coronavirus pandemic has, until recently, prevented in-person interaction with most of his teammates. They remained in touch via weekly Zoom calls with Hancock after Michigan schools were closed in mid-March.
"Coach has challenged to stay in shape and kept us motivated during the calls, but it took a little time for me to adjust to the new schedule of no school and not seeing teammates on a regular basis," Rojas said. "I could hardly sleep the first week."
The challenges Hancock, a Central Michigan All-American, issued to his wrestlers included a timed two-mile run, 750 pull-ups in a week and running 30 miles in one week.
On June 20, some DCC team members gathered for a workout at a large park not far from the school. Five days later, the Shamrocks finally held their long-delayed team banquet at the home of assistant coach Sam Amine, a former University of Michigan wrestler.
Rojas took his first steps on the path to where he is today at age six when older brother Mike came home from school with a wrestling team flyer.
"We were actually a soccer family until then, but Mike told my parents he wanted to join the (middle) school wrestling team and, of course, I wanted to do whatever my brother was doing," he recalled.
Rojas took to the sport almost immediately, but it seemed unlikely he would ever end up wrestling for the Shamrocks. The Rojas family lives in Bay City, a 90-minute drive from DCC's campus in Novi.
However, when Rojas was invited to join the Shamrocks Selects, DCC's feeder program, prior to entering the seventh grade, his parents volunteered for the long commute. They are thankful, to put it mildly, that Rojas is now a licensed driver.
"That's been a little drive," quipped Rojas. "But when my parents saw how much I wanted to be a part of Catholic Central's program, they made it work."
Rojas began his freshman season after placing second in the cadet, 152-pound freestyle competition in Fargo. That was his ideal weight then, but state champion Cameron Amine, now at Michigan, filled that spot.
Rojas did crack the starting lineup at 160 and went 27-10, including district and regional championships. He finished 1-2 at the state tournament, falling short of the podium. Still, he was one of only two Division 1 freshmen who won state-tournament matches at 160 or above.
Last summer, Rojas again made the 152-pound title match in Fargo, but dropped a 5-4 decision to three-time state champion Stoney Buell of Dundee in an all-Michigan final. He had decisioned Buell, No. 76 on the Class of 2021 Big Board, two months earlier at a USA Wrestling regional tournament.
"I love wrestling Stoney and how challenging it is, but I decided right there that I was sick of losing in major finals and determined the result was going to be different next time," Rojas said. "I began working even harder, including extra work with some teammates after our normal practices once the season started."
Rojas also grew during the offseason and succeeded two-time state champion Easton Turner, now at Michigan State, at 189 pounds.
As he promised himself, Rojas took care of business when he reached an important final, decisioning Temperance Bedford's Colin Jagielski, 7-3, in the state championship match.
"Manny was wrestling out of his ideal weight class as a freshman, but didn't have a great state tournament," Hancock said. "That motivated him to not allow that to happen again."
Rojas stood atop the podium despite suffering a concussion a week earlier during the Division 1 team state championship match against Davison. Facing Facundo again, Rojas trailed 5-2 before Facundo appeared to widen the gap with a forceful double-leg takedown.
Officials ruled the move an illegal slam and the tournament doctor would not let Rojas continue after he began displaying concussion symptoms. Facundo was disqualified which gave the Shamrocks a 23-18 lead they never relinquished on the way to a fourth straight title.
"I hated having my arm raised in that way because I wanted to continue so badly," Rojas said. "I saw my doctor the next day and he gave me a list of things I had to be able to do to be cleared for the individual state tournament."
Rojas nervously returned to the doctor three days before the tournament and breathed a long sigh of relief when given the green light to wrestle.
"I barely passed," he said.
As DCC’s lone returning state champion, Hancock expects Rojas to fill more of a leadership role next season. Overall, the Shamrocks lose half of their 12 state medalists.
"Manny is already a leader through his actions and is well-mannered, extremely kind, and a friend to everyone," he said. "He's ready for additional leadership."
Rojas has spent the offseason doing just that.
"I feel I am being more of a leader already, especially when we were all staying at home," he said. "I called teammates to check what they are doing for workouts and stressed that now is the time to prepare for next season. There is no reason we can't be state champions again."
Rojas could possibly begin visiting colleges this fall, provided the pandemic allows it, but he has barely started sorting through the long list of offers.
"I could not tell you where I might visit at this point," he said. "I will go through all of that with coach Hancock and our other coaches and figure out where to go."
Mark Spezia is a freelance writer based in Lapeer, Michigan. He has written for ESPNW, Flohockey, Flint, Michigan-based My City Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit Magazine and Troy, Michigan-based Oakland Press. He previously worked for the Flint Journal, Lapeer (Michigan) County Press and Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton, Michigan.