Eight months ago, Moffat County High School senior wrestlers Jesse Brookshire, Kaleb Brown and Deric Dill were sent home early from summer camp, raising questions about their leadership among their teammates.
As the Bulldogs prepare for the regional and state tournaments, there is now little question from peers and coaches about the trio's desire to lead.
"Getting a second chance showed us that our coaches have trust in us," Brookshire said. "Being sent home from camp early made me want to be an even better leader and made me train harder."
Brown said the disappointment he saw from others made him want to do even better his last year on the mats.
"I just wanted to show people that I wasn't a total screw up," he said. "We were willing to face the consequences of being asked to leave. It's past us now and we're ready to try to win a state title."
What sets the three apart beyond the summer camp discipline is that they are now the only seniors remaining out of six who started the season with previous varsity experience. Three other seniors who were considered possible leaders left the team before the season was over.
"It says a lot about these guys who have stayed," coach Roman Gutierrez said. "They put everything behind them and made it work to their benefit. They have a lot more respect from me than the ones who didn't stick it out."
Brookshire (26-8) and Brown (27-7) go into the regional at Broomfield High School with No. 1 seeds in their respective weight classes of 130 and 140 pounds. Dill (22-11) was disappointed with his fourth seed, but admits it was probably deserved.
"I've been inconsistent this year," he said. "Some of my losses shouldn't have happened."
While depleted compared to the last couple of years, the Bulldogs are still looking at defending their regional and state titles.
"If we wrestle well at the regional it will give us confidence that we can win state again," Brookshire said. "It is important for us to step it up now."
Gutierrez said that with the parity around the state this year, the state championship will be anybody's to win in Denver.
"It starts with these three because before we lost the other seniors we had a much better chance," he said. "Now these guys need to beat people they shouldn't for us. They've shown they have that desire."
The other two top seeds in the tournament for the Bulldogs are junior Scott Garoutte and sophomore Korey Kostur (135). The Bulldogs have four other wresters with top-five seeds in sophomore Steven Englert (112) seeded fourth, junior Eric Fredrickson (119) seeded third, junior Brent Chamberlain (171) seeded fifth and junior Kyle Fredrickson (275) a third seed.
Freshman Levi Weber has the toughest bracket as far as state rankings go with five wrestlers ranked in the top 12 for his 103-pound class. Junior Shayne Zimmerman has been in and out of different classes because of grades and weight this year but he could be a sleeper in the 152-weight class where only two ranked wrestlers preside and he pinned one of them, Tyler Barnes of Palisade.
The final three wrestlers for Moffat County, senior Jody Moncrief (189), freshman Nick Navratil (160) and sophomore Daniel Cramblet (145) will earn their varsity wings with first-time regional experiences.
"It is going to be a close team battle between Montrose, Broomfield and us," Gutierrez said. "Broomfield doesn't have too many number one seeds but they could have eight guys in the finals."
In order to compete with Broomfield's depth the seniors know they have to step to the next level of leadership.
"This is huge for us to go out with something to talk about our seniors years of wrestling other than the summer," Dill said. "We've learned and now it's time to show that we can be leaders."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org