PALM COAST — When senior Marcelo Gonzalez decided to restart his wrestling career as a freshman at Flagler Palm Coast, he never thought the Bulldogs would be competing for a state championship.
“We sucked,” Gonzalez said of his first year. “We’ve definitely turned the program around.’
The Bulldogs will compete in the regional finals of the 3A State Duals Friday against Hagerty for a spot in the Final Four and state championship on Saturday.
Flagler Palm Coast defeated Hagerty in December at the 10th Annual Johnny Rouse Duals, 42-36. In the same tournament, the Bulldogs barely lost to 3A defending state champs South Dade. The Buccaneers are one of the six teams the Bulldogs could see in the final on Saturday.
Needless to say, head wrestling coach Zach Sanford and his team like their chances.
“We all know we’re great wrestlers,” Sanford said. “And when everyone’s in the right spot, we’re right up there with the best in the state.”
It took some time to return FPC to being a formidable program during Sanford’s four-year tenure. FPC has three wrestling state titles (1993, 1994, 1995) and was a state runner-up in 1989 and 1996.
Sanford is still humbled when he realizes he holds the keys to such a storied program, and understands the onus is on him and his staff to return it to glory.
“I give the most props to the coaches,” said senior Timothy King. “Coach put a lot of effort into us and we reciprocated.”
Sanford, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has integrated some of his skills into the FPC program.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the Bulldogs’ hard working mentality that led them to their state titles. They are “grind” people, Sanford said. When they go into a room, they shut up and grind for two or three hours, he added.
The team plans to enter Friday’s regional semifinals with that same mentality.
“They’ve just got to believe they’re as good as they are,” Sanford said. “We believe we belong, we’ll be there.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: High school wrestling: Flagler Palm Coast ready for chance at state title