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The only way Pasco's Brad Alford can put his injury-filled past behind him is to win a state title.
By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001
DADE CITY -- Brad Alford had seen the future, and in it he wore gold.
There he was, atop the medal stand, a gold medallion dangling from the Pasco wrestler's neck, the state championship he had clamored after for three years finally So imagine his disappointment as he limped around the Lakeland Center last year, recovering from the surgically-repaired torn right meniscus that had ended his promising junior season, watching his Pasco teammates compete in the state tournament in his stead.
"It's kind of hard to explain what it was like," he said. "I just couldn't wait to be there next year."
Next year is this year, and Alford, now a senior and one of the state's top 145-pounders, is primed for a run at the title that eluded him last season.
He has moved up a weight class, as have his skills and physique. His 5-foot-5 frame is now a solid 147 pounds of muscle, and he said he has grown far beyond the wrestler he was last season.
"I think he's the best-kept secret in the state of Florida," Pirates coach Mark DeAugustino said. "The college coaches know about him, though.
"He's tough, focused, ready. He's going to win it."
Yes, because going all the way might be the only way Alford can put the disappointment of last season behind him.
"It was hard, I went through a lot of depression," he said. "I felt like a caged animal."
In hindsight, it seems now that Alford's junior season was doomed from the start. He was already recovering from surgery to repair the knee when he tore the ligament for good in December after just 11 matches. Surgery in January left him bedridden for three weeks, and it would be another six months before he could wrestle again.
So Alford did the only two things he could: hit the weights and watch his teammates. "I sat out and watched lots of wrestling," he said. "I know I've learned a lot about wrestling just from doing that."
DeAugustino said Alford made the best of a bad situation.
"It was hard on him, but it definitely makes him want it more this year," the coach said. "He was pretty tough last year; he's even better this year."
Alford has won six of the seven tournaments he has entered this season and compiled an impressive 32-2 record. Last weekend, he won the Class A, District 8 title and will get the chance to advance to state at this weekend's Class A, Region 2 tournament at Central.
"He's just more focused, more confident, more consistent," DeAugustino said. "It's kind of like he's just clocking into work and he's doing his job."
But only a state title will make it all worth it.
"It means everything," Alford said. "That's what I've been aiming at the past four years, to achieve that goal would just be everything to me."