Brighton wrestling could bring back the Bulldogs’ glory days under alum Tom Wagner01 Feb 2017
As far as tradition goes, not many high school wrestling programs have more of it than Brighton. The Bulldogs claim seven team state titles — tied for ninth best in state history — with each championship coming in a span of 11 years starting in 1984. But the last of those titles came in 1994, when Tom Wagner was a senior at Brighton. Wagner, now in his 10th season as the Bulldogs’ coach, finished his prep career with three team titles and two individual titles. Few programs in the history of CHSAA have been as dominant as the Bulldogs during that time. And few prep wrestlers ever get to experience winning one individual state title, much less two. So when Wagner accepted the job in the fall of 2006, he made it his mission to bring back the magic, and since then the Bulldogs earned one top-five team finish at state in 2007.
But this winter Brighton appears as dangerous as it has been since Wagner donned a red and white singlet. The Bulldogs took second at the prestigious Top of the Rockies tournament Jan. 21, placing only behind defending champion Pomona, and have a number of individuals capable of making deep state tournament pushes at the Pepsi Center next month. “There’s huge tradition here that we’re trying to build back up,” Wagner said. “It starts with getting numbers out, which we’ve been able to do because we had over 50 kids out for the team this season. It’s also about the approach. Tom Cortez was my coach, and he’s in the CHSAA Hall of Fame, so we brought his rough, hard style of wrestling back to the room, especially lately because we’ve had a group of kids that can handle that intensity.”
The Bulldogs followed last weekend’s showing with another impressive performance, dominating their own Brighton Invitational on Saturday, beating out other top-tier 5A teams in Cherokee Trail and Coronado. Such consistency throughout the month of January has been because of the team’s depth. The Bulldogs boast talented wrestlers in their lower, middle and upper weights. Johnny Sanchez (106), Jarron Martinez (113), Nathan Baca (152), Jeremiah Ellerd (160), Tarron Adams (182), Ian Helwick (220) and Tanner Aitken (285) — all of whom placed at Top of the Rockies — give Brighton balance, as does the return of Orlando Gallegos from injury at 138.
“Our team is getting better each week, which is always good leading into this time of year,” Wagner said. “Taking second at the Top of the Rockies was a bit of a surprise to us. We figured we’d fall in the top five somewhere, so that was better than expected, for sure. And that raises our confidence going into the final stretch of the regular season.” Wagner believes a number of his guys will be in contention for an individual title, but acknowledges there’s still room to grow over the next few weeks. We’ve got to get better on our feet, because we’re just a little bit gun-shy on taking shots right now,” Wagner said. “If we get better on our feet and get a little more aggressive, we’ll be in good shape. We’re wrestling good off the bottom, we’re wrestling tough on top and we’re a pinning team. When we compete with that mind-set, we’re tough to stop.”