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Gator matures into state contender

After decades as a coach, Ed Goodpaster has seen it all. So the fact that Jimmy Gaulden is one of Pasco County's most skilled, most respected and most feared wrestlers is hardly a surprise to him.

He has seen the type of wrestler, the type of competitor, that Gaulden is time and time again.

Gaulden is a champion.

Gaulden is a winner.

Gaulden is well, it's best to let coach finish that one.

"He's got a screw loose," Goodpaster said. "All the great ones do. All the ones that have that extra drive, that want to win so badly, they're the ones that have that single-minded determination to win.

"And what that means is that they're not all there sometimes. It means that they're so focused on winning, on competing, that sometimes they forget themselves. They lose focus. All they can think about is being on the mat and pinning an opponent."

Gaulden knows exactly what Goodpaster is talking about. Gaulden, see, had a temperament problem early in his career. It affected his standing on the team, and it affected his efficiency on the mat.

If he was to master the sport he loves, Gaulden said, he knew he had to change.

"I'm surprised I was even on the team as long as I was back then," he said. "My temper always got the better of me. It always hurt me. I just realized that if I wanted to stay on the team, I had to do something."

So what did he do?

"I matured," said Gaulden, 18. "I grew up."

Goodpaster has been a patient mentor to Gaulden and proved it during the Dec. 4 Land O'Lakes Invitational.

First, Gaulden's friend, Ron Crotty, landed on his head, momentarily lost consciousness and had to be flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa for observation. Then Flagler Palm Coast forfeited its match against him in the finals, and Gaulden experienced one of those flare-ups he thought had long since passed him by.

The result was that he and Goodpaster ended up on the mat, wrestling each other, and had to be separated.

Gaulden later apologized to his coach and his teammates. Goodpaster, knowing the progress the senior had made throughout his career with the problem, considered the matter closed.

And Gaulden picked up where he left off, winning matches as the team captain led his team by example and force of will.

Tuesday at practice, Gaulden decided his teammates weren't drilling hard enough and led them in a rigorous round of calisthenics.

"He's just a natural leader on this team," Goodpaster said. "He leads by example on the mat, especially. The kids pick up on that.

"He's the type of kid who loves to wrestle. He wants to win a state championship, and I think he can do it. He's the type of kid who wants to go to college not just to get a scholarship, but to wrestle there, to win a national championship."

It's true, Gaulden said. He's shooting for the top.

"Winning a state championship is my goal," he said.

"There's only a few wrestlers in the state standing in my way, and I'll just have to do what I can."

Goodpaster said another example of Gaulden's maturation is the focus he shows on the mat. Last season, he was 32-16 in the 171-pound weight class. This season, at 160, he is 39-1 and ranked No. 3 in Class 2A by

"I've learned to stay within myself," he said. "I have to stay focused, and that means knowing where I am on the mat and in the match at all times. It's all about focus."

Said Goodpaster: "I like to say he's never been beaten, only that he's run out of time."