Reports of an East Hillsborough sophomore wrestler bidding for his second consecutive state title might spur thoughts about Brandon High's dominant program.
Donoven Hough, however, wrestles at Armwood and continues to build a reputation as an Eagle-killer.
"I remember the first time I beat any Brandon wrestler, I was in the eighth grade," said Hough, who enters today's two-day Class 2A, Region 3 wrestling tournament at Punta Gorda Charlotte as a prohibitive favorite in the 113-pound division.
Hough (pronounced How) not only holds the 2012 state title at 106, but he ranks No. 1 at his weight in Class 2A and has a win over Class 3A's top-ranked 113-pound wrestler, Brandon's Kyle Norstrem.
Last month, Hough avenged an earlier 4-3 loss to Norstrem in the Hillsborough County Championships with a dramatic 7-5 overtime victory.
"Redemption," Hough put it plainly. "He had only lost one match all year and it was at some big national tournament."
Hough has carved out a little niche of respect for Armwood in the shadow of the state's most successful program. It's a challenge he sought when he joined the Hawks last year.
"I never considered going to Brandon; I wanted to be on a team that could beat them," Hough said.
This desire sprang up with Hough at a very young age. He got started in wrestling around the fourth grade simply because his dad, Donald, was an assistant coach on the King wrestling team.
"I started to realize I was a little small for football, so I tried wrestling," said Hough, who won the third-place match in his first-ever wrestling tournament. "After I won that match, I thought, 'Wow I could be really good at this' and I started winning."
Hough kept on winning and hasn't let up since. He won a state title in the eighth grade for his club, Caveman, and in the ninth grade, he beat King High's Jacob Wasserman for the Class 2A state title at 106 pounds.
"When I wrestle Jacob, we're just competing, we're practice partners," Hough said. "When I wrestle somebody from Brandon, now we are rivals."
Hough takes a record of 36-3 into the regionals, and he holds a career record of 85-6, including two district titles.
Hough doesn't let it get to his head.
"I have all the medals that I've ever won in a shoebox," Hough said. "I don't dwell on a victory. I will maybe celebrate that night, but by the next day I'm over it and I'm in the gym.
"I feel like I can never get too high on myself," Hough said. "I feel like if I get all high on myself, someone's gonna beat me."
Winning a state title as a freshman can set up monumental disappointments for wrestlers as they face three more years of brutal competition, but Hough seems to have the right mindset. Riverdale junior Rich Riechelt (41-7) and Venice sophomore Zachary Kelly could pose the biggest challenges for Hough.
Armwood coach C.J. Gittens said Hough's state experience gives him an edge.
"He (Hough) has high school, state-level experience now," Gittens said. "He's coming in with plenty of familiarity."
Hough's biggest challenge at state likely will come from Springstead sophomore Michael McDonald — but on the radar now is the regional tournament.
"We just try to take it one day at a time. Some days are harder than others," Gittens said.
Andy Warrener can be reached at [email protected]