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A LASTING IMPRESSION

Senior Cody Ross is leaving Springstead with the school record for victories.

As the postseason approaches, the prep career of Cody Ross nears a conclusion.

The Springstead senior has starred at one of the state's elite wrestling programs for four years and has become arguably the greatest grappler to wear the Eagle singlet.

"What (former Springstead state champion) Corey Hill had was God-given talent and natural athleticism," Springstead coach Eric Swensen said. "All of what Cody does comes from hard work. He doesn't even like to play other sports."

BeforeRoss' arrival, Matt Booker's 162 career victories stood as the benchmark for the Springstead program and Hernando County. The 2001 state champion served as a leader for the team, and Ross has been no different. His workmanlike attitude before and during every bout has made him the best in reputation and results.

"I've wrestled (with Springstead kids) since I was like 4 or 5, and I grew up looking up to all those names and records on the wall," Ross said. "Now that I'm one of them, I do feel a little bit of a responsibility to help the younger kids."

That dedication has him at 174 victories after passing Booker this month in the team's home tournament, the Springstead Invitational. With 22 pins on the season, he is 11 away from Richie Bliss's all-time school record of 103 as well.

"He definitely has the credentials," longtime Springstead assistant and wrestler Sal Basile said. "Cody can hang with anyone."

As a freshman, he lost in the state final to Brandon's Rossi Bruno. The runnerup finish would be the final time he did not stand atop the podium at the state championships in Lakeland. He has gone on to win state crowns as a sophomore at 135 pounds and as a junior at 140.

His exploits for Springstead would be enough to draw attention, but the sport has been Ross' top priority even during the offseason. He is a six-time All-American including winning two national championships, his last at the 2011 FILA nationals in April in Akron, Ohio.

Ross' college future will come down to his choice of location. He has received interest from North Carolina State, Ohio State, Buffalo and Duke. He has contacted the admissions office at Duke and considers the Blue Devils the top choice right now.

However, he knows he's not yet done earning accolades. With one more postseason run remaining, he wants to cement his legacy.

"I'm real excited about this last chance," Ross said. "I feel like I started out a little slow this season, but I'm starting to pick it up."

He is competing at 152 pounds and has a 32-2 record. His adjustment into a weight class where many opponents are larger than him has been overwhelming, but his superior technical skill has allowed him to handle almost everything that has come his way.

"Cody has wrestled like 1,000 matches in his life," Swensen said. "It takes a lot to rattle him."

As the top-ranked wrestler in Class 2A at 152, Ross is the heavy favorite to add one more state title to his resume. The second-ranked competitor is Celebration's J.J. Francis, someone he has defeated this season.

"(Being the favorite) makes him comfortable," Swensen said. "Cody has a little cockiness and swagger to him, and that's when he's at his best."

An overtime loss to Brandon's Travis Berridge at last weekend's Ippolito Memorial Tournament served as his second blemish and ended a 24-match win streak.

With his focus as sharp as ever, he's ready for the challenge of ending his career the way most only hope to: wearing a gold medal next month at the Lakeland Center.

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Fast facts

District schedules

Class 3A-6 at Durant

Teams: Bloomingdale, Brandon, Durant, East Bay, Newsome, Plant, Plant City, Riverview, Tampa Bay Tech, Wiregrass Ranch

Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 11 a.m., finals at 4

Class 2A-7 at Hernando

Teams: Central, Citrus, Hernando, Land O'Lakes, Lecanto, Nature Coast, Springstead

Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 10 a.m. with finals to follow

Class 2A-8 at Dunedin

Teams: Dunedin, Mitchell, River Ridge, Sunlake, Tarpon Springs, Zephyrhills

Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 10 a.m., finals at 4

Class A-8 at Fivay

Teams: Anclote, Crystal River, Dunnellon, North Marion, Fivay, Hudson, Pasco, Trinity Catholic, Weeki Wachee

Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 10 a.m., finals TBD

Class A-9 at Robinson

Teams: Berkeley Prep, Carrollwood Day, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto, Tampa Bay Christian, Tampa Prep, Wesley Chapel

Schedule: Feb. 4. First match at 10 a.m., finals at 5

Class A-10 at Indian Rocks Christian

Teams: Admiral Farragut, Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Gulf, Indian Rocks Christian, Lakewood, Northside Christian, Ridgewood, Shorecrest

Schedule: Feb. 3. First match at 2 p.m., finals TBD

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