Claysburg-Kimmel's James Dodson has been wrestling two weight classes above where he finished last season, jumping from 119 pounds to 132.
While some wrestlers can't handle that kind of a jump because their style of wrestling sometimes changes, Dodson has handled it with ease.
Dodson is 28-0 with 17 pins in his senior season and coming off winning a title at 132 pounds at the rugged Thomas Subaru Tournament. Dodson was 41-5 with 23 pins last season, qualifying for the PIAA Championships at 119. What has helped him to continue winning and pinning has been his offseason training.
"James has put his time in during the offseason," C-K coach Dave Marko said. "He's bigger, stronger and faster, and he's having a nice season."
"I lifted a lot in the offseason. I lifted today," Dodson said. "I'm trying to get bigger. I have no problem cutting weight."
Dodson began to work on getting bigger soon after his second trip to Hershey. He won his first bout at states, but then he ran into Bethlehem Catholic's eventual state runner-up Randy Cruz, who beat Dodson, 11-2, in the quarterfinals. Cruz lost to Derry's three-time state champ Jimmy Gulibon, 6-5, in the finals.
Dodson, who placed second to Gulibon at the Southwest Regional Tournament, was eliminated from his medal run with an 8-1 loss to Ridgway's Corey Bush in his next bout.
"The experience at Hershey has helped me a lot," Dodson said. "I got there as a freshman, and it opened my eyes. Last year, I wasn't even nervous. I know what to expect. The competition is high, and there's no room for error. I definitely made my share of errors, and it cost me. I have to get off the bottom more, and I think my lifting is the key to my bottom wrestling."
"James was pretty doggone tough last year," Marko said. "Last year, he came up short of his expectations, and that has fueled him this year. With his athletic ability, the sky is the limit."
Dodson's athletic ability served him well when he began wrestling at the age of 4. Two years later, he qualified for the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling State Championships, and the next year, he placed fourth. He went on to place one more time at PJWs.
"James has succeeded at every level," Marko said. "He's always been a real tough-nosed kid. He's got great balance, and he's a great natural scrambler. A coach can teach technique until he's blue in the face, but it's very difficult to learn scrambling. The only way to get better is experience."
"I just like competing like everybody else," Dodson said. "I like the competitiveness about wrestling, and I like winning. I like to be able to do good and win big matches and get the crowd going. I like it because it's you versus the other guy."
Dodson went 33-11 as a freshman 103-pounder, placed fifth at the District 6 Tournament and fifth at the Southwest Regional to qualify for Hershey.
"They thought I was a good fit for 103," Dodson said, "so I moved up, and I was happy I did well. I was happy to get to states because I didn't expect to make it there. I was competing for a state title just like all the other guys. It was definitely an eye opener."
The next year, while he was just as successful, going 30-11 and placing fourth at districts at 112, he couldn't make the return trip to Hershey.
Dodson made a couple trips to the Giant Center last year, though, helping the Bulldogs finish second at the District 6 Duals to qualify for the PIAA Duals. Later, he made the individual tournament, beating Huntingdon's Kie Brown, 5-4, to win the District 6 title and finishing second at regionals.
"His freshman year, he beat Kie Brown, and he beat Kie Brown in last year's district finals," Marko said. "Last year's win really sent him to another level of confidence."
With Dodson, who has a career record of 132-27 and 66 pins, at 132 and Ty Dively at 138, the Bulldogs have a pretty good 1-2 combination. Their success is something their teammates can look up to, and Dodson, who gets extra workouts sometimes at Young Guns, says he's fine with being looked upon as a team leader.
"A lot of them look up to me," he said. "Sometimes I lead by example. I lead as best as I know how. What I can't fix, I leave up to the coaches."
A good student and quarterback on the football team who has gotten letters from Edinboro, Brown and Lycoming to continue his wrestling career, Dodson is focused on the task ahead of him - winning another district title, qualifying for Hershey for a third time and getting on the medals stand.
He'll have a challenge within the area. He's ranked second in the Mirror rankings behind Central Cambria's Ben Rager, a returning state placewinner who is also 28-0.
"The challenge is always going to be there," Dodson said. "You have to try your hardest. I like the challenge, and being the underdog is not always bad."