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Panthers' Rodriguez zeros in

With nothing to distract him, the 112-pounder is looking to the regionals and beyond.

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


LECANTO -- As evidenced by his 30-3 record, Jimmy Rodriguez rarely stumbles when he's on the wrestling mat.

But there is something about his most recent loss that the Lecanto senior finds troubling.

Focus. Or, should we say, a lack thereof.

With the SAT the same day as the Citrus Invitational, Rodriguez acknowledges that wrestling wasn't his first priority.

The result was a loss to Lake Weir's Eddie Gonzalez.

"I was more into studying and making sure I prepared for test than wrestling," Rodriguez said. "Everyone wants to go to college and you need the SAT to get there, so I was more focused on that.

"You can't be thinking about other stuff against a good kid. You've got to be right on the dime."

With the SAT taken care of, Rodriguez made amends on Feb. 9, winning the district championship at 112 pounds with an 8-6 overtime win over Gonzalez in the final.

Rodriguez won the match with a takedown just 12 seconds into the overtime period, handing Gonzalez his only loss of the season.

"I didn't know what I was up against the first time and my mind wasn't as much on wrestling," Rodriguez said.

"The second time I was more focused, more aware and I knew what to expect from him."

Don't be surprised to see Rodriguez and Gonzalez match up again at this weekend's Class A, Region 2 championships.

Though the loss has relegated Gonzalez (31-1) to a second seed, his record is still the best in the region.

Rodriguez remains focused on winning his first-ever regional title, but is also looking ahead to a potential state championship, something he feels is well within his reach.

Last year, Rodriguez lost to eventual state champion Pat Reili of Hudson, a senior, in the regional final.

He believes that this year may be his to win the title.

"Yeah, I think I can win it," he said. "I really want to get into the finals. I could be happy with that, but it would hurt too because I'd know I was so close to a state championship."

His attraction to the sport is not unlike that of a lot of lighter wrestlers.

At 112 pounds, Rodriguez isn't going to attract a lot of attention from football or basketball coaches, but he did catch the eye of then-wrestling coach Cory Collins, who encouraged Rodriguez to continue the sport after a promising freshman season.

"I like going out there and showing that, even though I'm a small kid, I can do a lot," Rodriguez said.

"The coaches really pushed me because they saw a lot in me. I've come pretty far since my freshman year and I've never stopped wrestling."

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