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SPRING HILL — Confidence can be a very motivating factor for a wrestler. Just look at Springstead’s Virgil Toms.
Toms has been a talented grappler throughout his prep career, but in the middle of the postseason last year, he flipped a switch that really made him into a force on the mat. He eventually emerged with his first state title.
Toms transferred his junior year to Springstead from Ocala Forest. He qualified for the state tournament as a freshman and sophomore, including a 55-4 record and third-place finish as a sophomore at 119 pounds behind Brandon’s Rossi Bruno and current Springstead teammate Cody Ross.
Springstead coach Eric Swenson describes Toms as a methodical wrestler who studies the craft. There is a fine line to walk in the sport between aggression and strategy. Early in his career, Toms might have been a little too timid while looked to take advantage of openings against opponents.
“Virgil respects everyone, from his first round match to the finals,” Swenson said. “He’s like a chess player. He always has a plan of attack.”
After joining the Eagles, the experience started to harden him, but there wasn’t much that could be done once he injured his shoulder.
He competed through the pain and reached the postseason. Nothing was going to derail his state title dreams.
“He took some time off and rested,” Swenson said, “but it was a whole mix of things. He is a naturally-gifted wrestler.”
At less than 100 percent, Toms put forth gutsy efforts to defeat Oviedo’s Ray Rowland in the region and state finals by 2-1 decisions.
He followed that with surgery on the shoulder during the summer. He was sidelined through October, with hopes of being ready for his senior campaign and a chance to defend those titles.
“I was very motivated coming into this year,” Toms said. “Once I could get on the mat, I was working at USA Wrestling with the coaches every single day.”
And he was more than ready. In Springstead’s first big tournament , Toms advanced to the finals against Brandon’s Bruno, taking the three-time state champ to two overtimes before falling for his lone loss this year. At the Kiwanis Invitational, he handed Gulf’s Anthony Ayers his first loss in two years.
The shoulder is far from completely healed, but Toms is on top of his game. He knows just where to position himself and what it’s going to take to get back to the Lakeland Center.
“I think the shoulder still bothers him, but Virgil’s doing a great job of dealing with the pain,” Swenson said. “He’s a senior, and he doesn’t have a whole lot of time left.”
At this weekend’s 22nd annual Springstead Invitational, Toms will again have a chance to meet Ayers in the championship match . He looks forward to the challenge.
“He’s a humble kid,” Swenson said. “He expects kids to come after him. He’s not satisfied with just being the champ.”
22nd annual Springstead Invitational
When: Friday — Weigh-ins, 12:30 p.m.; first round, 2:30. Saturday — Restart, 10 a.m.; finals, 6 p.m.
Teams: Springstead, Hernando, Nature Coast, Gulf, Jesuit, Dunedin, Strawberry Crest, Chamberlain, Space Coast, Fivay, Central, Spoto, Wiregrass Ranch, Lennard, River Ridge, Hillsborough, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills, St. Cloud, The Villages, Jefferson, Land O’Lakes, Mitchell
Skinny: The Eagles are looking to win their home tournament for the fifth consecutive season, and with the lineup they’re carrying, the odds are in their favor. Nick Soto (27-1), Richie Bliss (25-1), Cody Ross (26-1), Virgil Toms (25-2), John Dreggors (25-1) and Shawn Landgraff (25-1) are 153-7 coming in. The program has already won the Gulf Holiday Duals and Hernando Kiwanis Invitational this season.
Wrestlers to watch: There will be some tough weight classes that should produce some solid championship matches. At 171, Gulf’s Ladarious Jackson, a defending state champ at 152, could make the final against Space Coast’s Xavier Londano. Hernando’s Zach Pritz, who spent the early part of this season competing at 171, will have to deal with Gulf’s R.J. O’Connor if he competes at his normal weight class (160).
Favorites: Richie Bliss (103), Springstead; Shaun Shakoor (112), Dunedin; Forrest Swartsel (119), Gulf; Sean Redman (125), Springstead; Virgil Toms (130), Springstead; Nick Soto (135), Springstead; Cody Ross (140), Springstead; Sam Colon (145), Springstead; Shawn Landgraff (152), Springstead; Zach Pritz (160), Hernando; Xavier Londano (171), Space Coast; Andrew Herr (189), River Ridge; Ben Richards (215), Hillsborough; John Dreggors (285), Springstead