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Durant sets goal at higher level

From its inaugural season, Durant's program has produced winning teams. But this season the expectations are higher.

An attitude of victory has filled the Cougars practice room and that attitude has shown in tournaments and duals this year. Now the team and coaches want to win a team state championship.

Most of the Cougars are underclassmen and are challenging older (but not necessarily more experienced) competitors. They're also winning tough matches and tournaments. Coach Dennis Kitko doesn't discount the possibility of a Class 3A state title this season, but realistically top three is his goal.

Kitko won three state championships at Brandon, had a successful college career and built two successful high school programs, while still a student and later a teacher in Tallahassee.

Helping Kitko build Durant's program are assistants John Heyman, once a Brandon state champ under coach Russ Cozart, and Bobby Bennett, a state runnerup for the Eagles under Jim Graves. Bennett's son, Tommy, is a sophomore state contender at 103 pounds.

"With John, Bobby, Jack Greene (a third assistant) and some younger good wrestlers in the workout room, we now have what we need to make practice a highly competitive place," Kitko said. "I am very happy with the progress of our team and how they continue to improve. Because we have so many young wrestlers, nearly everyone is coming back next year. I think our best shot for a state title is next year."

Bennett probably has the best shot at a title this year, though he's only a sophomore.

His only loss in 15 matches this season was by one point to an eighth grader _ Eric Grajales of Temple Heights, who is a favorite to win the 103-pound Class A state title and has won 12 national championships.

At 189 pounds, junior Jimmy Cotterman is 15-0 for the season. Counting elementary and middle school in Pennsylvania, plus a year in the Brandon Wrestling Club, he has seven years' experience. He is also a three-year letterman on the Cougars' swim team.

Cotterman is quick and skilled for a big wrestler. Most upperweight wrestlers in Florida are football players wanting to stay in shape, but he is as serious about wrestling as he is about his academics. Taking honors classes, he carries a 4.2 GPA.

"Practice is hard, but I usually run about three miles when I get home to work on my endurance," Cotterman said. "I don't have any particularly favorite move to control or win with. I have a chain of moves; I go from one to the next, until I score a fall or win points. The team may not win the state championship this season, because Oviedo in Orlando is tough and deep. But we will do good and maybe win next season."

Kitko also will count on junior Tim Burdine (130) and sophomore Justin Bechtold (112) to score points in region and state competitions.

"Our top four _ Cotterman, Bennett, Bechtold and Burdine _ can help us win any tournament, but we will need more scoring from the other 10," Kitko said. "We still have a ways to go, but I am pleased with the overall progress so far."

The next two big challenges for Durant will be the Graves Duals Tournament at Brandon Friday and Saturday and a regular-season dual with Eagles.