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Talent pool doesn't start, end with Eagles

Individual champions from Hillsborough County could be in abundance Saturday, and not just because Brandon is rolling into the Lakeland Center.

Let there be no doubt: Brandon is still the leader. The Eagles, who have won 17 titles and five in a row, are led by three-time titlist David Craig (171) and two-time champ Sean Joyce (145).

But this year the county's depth extends well beyond the grounds of Brandon High.

In Class 3A, the continuing battle between Bloomingdale junior Ryan Nye and Durant senior Tim Burdine will probably end in the finals for a 135-pound championship. Nye finished second last year and Burdine would be undefeated except for three losses to Nye, all by three points or less. Nye enters the final tournament with a 40-0 record.

Other Durant contenders include Tommy Bennett (103) and Adam Doback (140).

The rest of the county's top 3A wrestlers include Riverview's C.J. Gittens (112), Bloomingdale's Kyle Paladini (152), East Bay's Matt McNabb (215) and Sickles' Joe Russell (275).

In Class A, potential winners include Newsome's Larry Ettore (189) and Nick Weaver (215), who qualified for their first state meet and have the potential to win it all. Weaver won the region championship and Ettore was runnerup, but both have developed a pattern of improving from their previous matches.

Jesuit, which could earn a top-five team finish, is led by Andrew Jimenez (160), Matt Lynn (171) and Kurt Spranger (119). Jimenez and Lynn won region titles and Spranger was a runnerup.

Brandon, which has had as many as six individual champions in a year, is likely to produce multiple winners again, even in a so-called rebuilding year.

"We lost seven starters last year and have a different group now," coach Russ Cozart said. "But they want a state championship and with four undefeated wrestlers on our squad I think we can achieve that goal also."

Right behind Craig and Joyce is undefeated freshman 103-pounder Eric Grajales, who has two-dozen youth national titles and placed second in the state last year as an eighth-grader.

Then there are undefeated seniors Alex Araoz (130) and James Brown (125) and juniors Keith Koziel (152) and Tommy Timothy (160), who have just a handful of losses between them. Timothy, who placed second last year, is another of the undefeated Eagles this season, despite recuperating from a broken hand.

Staff writer Scott Purks contributed to this report.

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