SPRING HILL — Expectations are nothing new for Springstead's Mike McDonald.
Ever since he was competing in tournaments as a member of the Spring Hill Youth Wrestling Club, he built a reputation as one of the best wrestlers in his age group.
From the time he was 6, multiple championships and honors led to an expectation of high school success. Once he made the Springstead lineup as a sophomore, McDonald did not disappoint.
"My fifth-grade year I realized I was getting a lot better," he said. "I definitely didn't know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to be one of the best."
Springstead, the defending three-time state champion team in Class 2A, is no stranger to standout wrestlers, either. Eagles history is full of prominent state champs, such as Corey Hill (1996, '97), Dustin Swanton (1998, '99), Schuyler Swanton (2007, '08), Richie Bliss (2009-11), Nick Soto (2010, '11), Virgil Toms (2010, '11), and Cody Ross (2010-12).
Long before he donned a Springstead singlet, McDonald dreamed of joining that elite group, and last year at the state meet in Lakeland, he took a big step toward realizing that goal when he stood on the podium with a fifth-place medal around his neck.
"I think it would be pretty awesome to be known as one of the best ever," said McDonald, who wrestles at 120 pounds. "I just tell myself that I'm the best and no one works harder than me."
Since last year's state tournament, he has been on a mission. McDonald (37-0) won titles at Springstead, Hernando Kiwanis and the Ippolito Memorial Invitational, and captured his third straight district title. The Class 2A region tournament starts today at Brandon, where McDonald is also looking to grab a second straight crown.
With 121 wins already under his belt, McDonald has become one of the most successful wrestlers in program history as a junior. With two trips to state, experience is no longer an issue, and McDonald believes he is the only one who can stop him from his first state title.
"This year is the most motivated I've ever been," he said. "I just stay confident and don't change anything. What I'm doing is working, so I am not going to change it."
Twenty-four-time state champion Brandon will be waiting for Springstead today, the first time the programs have shared a region since 2009. Even facing a lineup full of state contenders, Springstead coach Sal Basile has made it clear that his Eagles aren't conceding anything.
"Sal always preaches that second (place) isn't an option," McDonald said. "We have to have the mind-set that we're going to win."