For a change in pace: This is a student at my school.
Coronado senior wrestler Henry Cejudo hasn’t lost a match since moving to Colorado before his junior year. Cejudo will make a run at another state title this weekend in the 125-pound weight division. The state tournament starts Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
By BOB STEPHENS THE GAZETTE
A wry smile crossed Henry Cejudo’s face. He started to speak, then abruptly stopped putting on his Team USA sweat pants and exercised a rare moment of caution.
Cejudo didn’t want to appear overly cocky. He does that often enough.
A veteran of five international wrestling tournaments, the unbeaten Coronado High School senior was asked the odds of losing in the state wrestling championships that begin Thursday at Pepsi Center in Denver.
Cejudo is the overwhelming favorite in the 125-pound division and acknowledged as the best wrestler in the state, regardless of weight.
“You’ve got to respect everybody at state,” Cejudo said, measuring every word. “They’re all good. But I still have an edge.”
Cejudo shrugged his shoulders and said matter-of-factly, “Wrestling is my job.”
He’s ranked No. 1 among U.S. juniors, No. 1 among high school wrestlers and No. 6 among U.S. seniors in his weight class.
Since transferring to Coronado as a junior, he’s 44-0, 21-0 this season. His high school record is 114-3 with three state championships, two in Arizona.
He’s twice beaten Jason Powell, the 2004 NCAA champion, and bested Besik Kudukhov, the Russian junior world champion, Nov. 19 in New York. Cejudo lost to Kudukhov on Jan. 28 in Russia.
“Henry is one of the top four high school wrestlers ever,” said Mitch Hull, national teams director for USA Wrestling. “Not everybody has wrestled up (against older competition). Dan Gable didn’t. But I rank Henry with Jimmy Carr (1972 Olympian as a high school senior), Dave Schultz (1984 gold medalist) and Cary Kolat (2000 Olympian).”
Wasson senior Tony George, who won his regional Saturday, could meet Cejudo in the championship match.
“It would take a miracle for somebody to beat him, but miracles do happen,” George said. “I don’t know if people realize how far above everybody else he is. I don’t think anyone will score on him and I don’t think anyone will go three periods.”
Coronado coach Matt Brickell, asked if Cejudo could lose, said, “There’s a chance . . . sickness, injury. I don’t see it happening. He’s a machine.”
After winning the Pueblo Centennial Invitational on Jan. 14, Cejudo said it was “good practice.” Against high school foes, he typically scores a takedown, but lets the opponent up, giving away an “escape” point.
“He doesn’t ‘mat’ wrestle,” said Coronado senior Cole Nash, a title contender at 135. “His only pins are from takedowns. I’ve learned a lot from watching how aggressive he is. He just breaks a person’s morale.”
When asked how many weight classes he could move up and win the state championship, Cejudo didn’t hesitate. “Heavyweight,” he said.
Pete Rose once said superstars must have an “inner conceit.” Cejudo possesses that in abundance.
“I’ve never met anybody as confident,” Brickell said. “He can say something and back it up. There are a lot of tough kids around the country, but I think Henry’s mind — his mental attitude — is what sets him apart.”
Born in south central Los Angeles, Cejudo didn’t really know his father. He grew up in a part of Phoenix he called “little Mexico.” It’s a time and place he was happy to escape.
“Most of my friends were up to no good,” Cejudo said. “Here, I found Disneyland.”
He was invited to wrestle at the Olympic Training Center at a women’s camp in the summer of 2004 to help women develop against fast, strong male competition. His wrestling partner was Patricia Miranda, who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics.
With his brother Angel — who is two years older and ranked No. 9 in the U.S. at 132 — Henry was then invited to move to Colorado Springs and hone his skills at the Olympic Training Center. So the brothers Cejudo moved to Colorado Springs.
At 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds — give or take a big meal or a day of fasting — Cejudo is a small package of tightly wound talent. Quick and strong, he’s a master technician with moves polished from two years of practice at the OTC.
Away from the mat, he’s quick to joke or flash a mis- chievous grin. But when the game is on, so is his attitude.
“If it’s checkers, I’m aggressive,” Cejudo said sharply.
Soccer was his first love but it wasn’t right for the quick-tempered perfectionist.
“There were too many people to get mad at,” Cejudo said. “They didn’t always do what they were supposed to.”
In wrestling, if he loses, Cejudo doesn’t have to look far to find fault. He scowled when asked about his recent loss to Kudukhov, ranked 13th in the world.
“I want to be the best,” Cejudo said. “I want to win the Olympics. I want to win the world championships.”
With those goals in mind, Cejudo might forgo college and continue his development at the OTC. Besides, the classroom isn’t his favorite place.
“I’m a big fan of learning,” Cejudo said. “But I’m not a big fan of school.”
Hull said Cejudo sees the big picture when it comes to chasing his lofty goals.
“He’s beyond the normal scope of what people think of after high school,” Hull said. “He has to figure out which route is best for him.”
Cejudo’s game plan is to make the 2008 Olympic team, when he will be 21.
“You’ve got to think big, and do big,” he said. “If I set a goal, I’ll reach it sooner or later. And it’s usually sooner.”
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Wrestling State tournament at Pepsi Center
Thursday, 2A/3A preliminaries, 3 p.m., 4A/5A preliminaries, 7:15 p.m.
Friday, 2A/3A quarterfinals, 10 a.m.; 4A/5A quarterfinals, 1 p.m.; all semifinals, 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, State tournament at Pepsi Center: consolations, 11 a.m., third- and fifth-place matches, 2:30 p.m., finals, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased through TicketMaster, 1-303-830-8497, at TicketMaster outlets or at the Pepsi Center box office. Each session is $8-$12.