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Bear a bit of a dark horse

By DEREK LaRIVIERE
Published February 2, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - A year ago at this time, the fate of Central's program was in the air. Some of the most promising grapplers to start the season under then-coach Alan Solomon did not know if they would get a chance to compete on the prep level.

Things have come a long way for the Bears since. Former Central wrestler and Springstead assistant Roy Reyes was hired to right the ship. He immediately organized offseason club wrestling and gained the confidence of underclassmen.

But one cannot make headway into sudden success without talented upperclassmen. That is where Gilbert Perez came in.

Last preseason, when Solomon was asked who had the most potential in his lineup, his answer was Perez. No one got a chance to see what the middleweight could do after the turmoil that eventually caused the cancellation of Central's season.

One of Reyes' main goals was making sure Perez got as far as he could in the short time he had to work this year.

"Gilbert has really improved by leaps and bounds," Reyes said. "We are all anxious to see how he can perform against the programs in our region."

Class 2A, Region 2 is considered by many as the most difficult in the state with Brandon, Lake Gibson and Springstead some of its top-level programs.

As Springstead coach Eric Swensen once said, "If you can place in our region, you can place at states."

For much of the season, Perez wrestled in relative anonymity. With no credentials to look to from last year, the senior 140-pounder is making his impression on the prep scene as he goes.

When building the schedule, Reyes decided to focus on duals. The scheduling strategy was meant to emphasize a team-building attitude, but the hidden effect is many larger programs have yet to see Perez. While wrestlers of similar talent levels from Springstead and Hernando have cracked the state rankings, Perez has gone unnoticed.

Until last week's Hernando County Athletic Conference Championship Duals.

He went 3-0, sweeping county foes in his weight class, including Hernando's Jesse Graham, a returning state qualifier. With his trademark tenacious offense, Perez had Graham on his heels most of the match. The Central star outdistanced Graham 6-2.

"We didn't have a real team last year and people around here haven't seen us this season," Perez said after the victory. "This was my chance to show everyone how far I've come and what I am capable of."

The secret is out now.

[Last modified February 1, 2007, 23:36:52]


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