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Bridges determined to make State
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Practice is about to start. Johnny Bridges is sitting on a concrete step in front of the Ceres High small gymnasium. The senior wrestler is wearing big black sunglasses, several layers of clothing and a backpack.

"My season for mistakes was last year," Bridges said. "This is it. I got to go all out."

Last season, Bridges qualified for the Sac-Joaquin South-Delta Sub-Section Wrestling Championships but had to watch from the stands at Pitman High School after failing to make weight.

This year, he's determined to make amends and qualify for the CIF State Meet, to be held in Bakersfield, March 4-5.

"I've been in the same situation," said Ceres coach Steve Vieira. "I know how it feels."

Vieira didn't make weight at the sub-section meet during his sophomore year at Hughson High School. He won a state title as a senior in 1999.

"Last year, I definitely let my coaches and teammates down, especially myself," Bridges said. "I got to put that in the past. This year is a whole brand-new year. I want to qualify for state. I'm working a lot harder for it."

Bridges said he feels a lot stronger and healthier competing at 112 pounds.

Last year, he had to lose more than eight pounds to wrestle at 103s.

"It's just one less thing for me to worry about during my senior year," Bridges said.

When Bridges needed to lose weight last season, he wouldn't eat for a couple of days in a row. When he went jogging at night, he would don plastic bags and bundles of clothing.

"It wasn't healthy the way I did it," Bridges said.

Bridges changed his training regimen.

He runs before and after school every other day. He's also eating a lot healthier.

"I hit the weights pretty good this summer too," Bridges said.

Qualifying for the state meet is going to be a daunting task.

Bridges must advance past the Modesto Metro Conference, sub-section and section tournaments. The top six placers at the section meet qualify for state.

Local opponents with state aspirations, include Turlock's Ty Costa, Calaveras' Will Fragoza, Hughson's Alex Durazo and Downey's Daniel Ippolito.

"I'd love to see him have a good year," Vieira said.

"He's got all the tools. He knows how to wrestle. He's a tough kid."

Said Nora Bridges, Johnny's mother: "He's getting trained by the best."

Added Johnny: "My confidence is pretty high and I got a coach behind me."

Last season, Bridges failed to win a tournament title. He had to settle for second place three times. On Dec. 21, he placed second at the Galt Warrior Classic.

"I get in the finals and psyche myself out," Bridges said. "It's more of a mental thing. I got to break that habit."

Bridges must remain aggressive.

"When I stick to my offense--shoot, shoot, shoot--that's when I do my best," he said.

Bridges had an impressive performance against Ippolito at a dual meet on Jan. 26. He outscored Ippolito 5-2 in the first round and held on for a 10-7 victory.

"He finished strong," Vieira said.

Bridges fell in love with the sport of wrestling at Mae Hensley Jr. High School. He competed for two years.

"It's in the blood," Bridges said.

Johnny's father, Roy, and uncles, Sonny and Milton, wrestled at Modesto High.

Milton's sons, Milton Jr. and Preston, wrestled at Johansen and Hughson high schools, respectively.

Milton Jr. qualified for the state meet twice (1998, 1999). Preston qualified for state in 2001 and was one match away from placing.

"They were all pretty good," Johnny said.

Bridges spent Thanksgiving with close friends and former teammates Ryan Rodriguez and David Burris.

Rodriguez, a freshman at Fresno State, and Burris, a freshman at West Point Academy, just missed qualifying for the state meet during their senior year.

"I want to do it for myself more than anyone," Bridges said. "I also want to do it for those guys because they're like my brothers."

Bridges placed second at the MMC championships on Friday at Johansen High School. The top four placers advanced to the sub-section tournament, which will be held at Golden Valley High School in Merced this Friday and Saturday. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier