Willie Fox doesn’t use many words. He succinctly explains himself. The sentences he carefully constructs are to the point. Four or five words long if you’re lucky.
Those not-diehard Gilroy High wrestling followers would have no idea that Fox is California’s No. 1-ranked 145-pound wrestler. Furthermore, only a select few know of the Fox family’s cross-country bicycle trip that took four-and-a-half months to complete. How about his aspirations to join the United States Naval Academy after graduation? You could spend an hour with him, and if you didn’t ask, he wouldn’t bring any of that up.
Mention his quirky conversation skills and he simply shrugs saying, “Yeah, that’s how I am.”
In the best shape and mental space of his career, Fox is bearing down on the final two weeks of his prep career. Up first is this weekend’s Central Coast Section Championships, which begin today at Independence High School in San Jose.
There, Fox is a three-time CCS runner-up. Fair or not, it’s the proverbial groomsman but never a groom stigma, so to speak.
Last year’s loss in the finals was especially difficult. Fox, looked in control when a break in technique put him at risk.
Riordan’s Zac Contreras capitalized and pinned Fox in the second period. The subsequent roar from the crowd –cheering both Contreras’ win and Fox’s defeat – has stuck with Fox all year. For as little as he celebrates, boasts or basks in his accomplishments, it doesn’t take much coaxing to get the soft-spoken grappler to open up about those not-so-great
“It just motivates me,” Fox said after practice Tuesday. “That last time everyone was cheering for that other guy. I kind of want it to be me for once. It really does bug me. But I don’t let it get to me in a negative way.”
Former teammate Blake Kastl couldn’t comprehend celebrating his CCS victory last season. All he could think about was Fox’s frustrating result. Those sentiments are abound among the GHS wrestling community.
“We try not to make CCS into a big deal because it’s just another step in the season toward state. But it is for Willie,” GHS head coach Greg Varela said. “We all want it so bad for him.”
Fox has had a stellar senior season with five tournament titles, including the Coast Classic, Overfelt Classic. Mid Cals , a Tri-County Athletic League championship and the Doc Buchanan Invitational, which is regarded as the most competitive state tournament next to, well, the CIF state championship tournament.
Fox upended Bakersfield’s Natrelle Deminson in the 145-pound final, relieving some lingering sting from a loss last March that ended Fox’s state run. The gold at Doc B resonated with Fox. He had turned a corner. He has always possessed a quiet confidence. It’s just a little louder now.
“That was the first big tournament we went to. And it was like, ‘this is my last time I’m going to wrestle at this tournament, so I really wanted to go out with a bang,” he said.
On the mat – where Fox lets actions do the “talking” – he is 41-1 this season, and the Deminson victory isn’t the only payback he has cashed in either. He moved past Contreras in the semifinals at Mid Cals, and in the finals that same night, he avenged his lone loss with a 4-3 decision against Nevada state champ Joey LaVallee.
“My attitude about the whole thing is different,” Fox said. “Last year, I guess I didn’t really trust my training and I didn’t think I was up there with the big dogs. Now I believe I can roll with them.”
Not only has he rolled with them, he is ranked above them, too.
“I think about being No. 1 all the time,” Fox said. “It definitely means something. I earned it.”
As one of the three seniors in the GHS lineup, Fox will lead the Mustangs (currently ranked as the No. 4 team in the state) in their quest for No. 10 as the tournament’s No. 1-seed at 145 pounds.
“It’s going to be intense. “It’s CCS. It’s No. 10. ” Fox concluded. “I’m going in there thinking that everyone is going to try to throw me on my head or go for the big pin – like they are trying to take something away from me. So I’m gonna go all out every single match.”
• The Mustangs have 13 wrestlers – one shy of the maximum 14 – entered into the 80-team tournament.
Sophomores Victor Olmos (120), Nikko Villarreal (132) and Paul Fox (126), who are all defending section titleholders, were also tagged with a No. 1 seed for the nine-time defending champs. Jesse Vasquez (106), Aaron Gonzalez (138) and Jose Lara (Hwt) are No. 2-seeds. Victor Daza, Lupe Jimenez, Matt and Mark Penyascek, Julian Carbajal and Frank Martinez round out the 13.
Gilroy all but sewed up their ninth title before the finals commenced. Varela would like to see that same tenacity this time around.
“Day 1 is about racking up pins. We have to get as many falls as we can,” Varela said. “We had a dual at Oakdale earlier this season and our studs all won. They could have got major (decisions), (technical falls) or pins, but they just won. In the end that came back to haunt us because we tied them. The lesson learned there: If we coast at sectionals, we are going to lose.
“They are in the right mindset now. You have to dominate. We aren’t here to squeak by. They are ready.”
Wrestling starts at 10 a.m. today and Saturday. The finals are slated for 7 p.m.