By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
Roger Boulby chuckles when asked about his son Roger "Bronc" McCovey's early wrestling career.
When he started at the tender age of 5 in the Del Norte Youth Wrestling Club, he didn't set the mat on fire.
He was 8 or 9 when he finally started dominating his competition and constantly winning matches.
"It was pretty comical," Boulby said about the early years. "He wasn't a natural at the beginning."
The 6-foot-3, 240 pound Del Norte High School junior is now one of the best wrestlers in California and a top Division I college prospect. With a record of 31 wins and no losses this season, the Yurok tribe member is currently ranked as the No. 1 heavyweight in the statefor schools of all sizes.
Natural skill has not been the sole factor in his success.
It took dedication, quiet resolve, and the help and guidance of coaches and family to help McCovey, 17, develop to the stage he is at today.
When he was little, Bronc loved being with his friends and showed an interest in the sport, even if he wasn't always winning.
"He was just having a good time and was always happysmiling," his father said.
Even today, Bronc grins from ear to ear before a match, talking and joking with his teammates. But when he gets on the mat he turns on the intensitypinning most opponents in short orderand goes back to being a happy, smiling teen again.
"He's always been like that," his father said. "He's always been nice. He's still the same."
"I like how you can really push yourself and it can make a difference in how you perform," McCovey said. "In wrestling, there's no one else to help you. It's up to you. Just you."
Steve Luis was in charge of the youth wrestling program when Bronc was a kid. What he noticed about McCovey was his dedication. To Luis, McCovey has always had a genuine love of the sport that came from within and was not forced upon him by outside influences.
Bronc was extremely quiet and barely uttered a word, Luis recalled.
He always listened to his coaches, soaking up any grappling tidbit he heard, his father and Luis said.
"Wrestling is a tough sport, but year after year he came back and he just kept getting better and better," Luis said.
"Holy cow, did he work," Luis said. "There was just something about him. He didn't want to lose"
Luis said he noticed when he was in the youth program that Bronc and his dad would study the opponent, trying to pick up weaknesses and ways to counter-attack a move.
"He had a game plan going into every match. A real game plan," Luis said. "He understood if you study your opponent and see a weakness it helps a lot."
Bronc said his dad, who is now in charge of the Del Norte Wrestling Youth Club, still helps him on his technique and they study opponents and compare notes.
"My dad's always been a good coach," McCovey said. "He knows what he's talking about. He's taught me pretty much everything I know."
Luis said even when he was only 10 or 11 years old, Bronc "led by example" and even taught his fellow wrestlers techniques or led them through drills.
"I never saw him doing anything unsportsmanlike or having an attitude," Luis said. "He was a quiet leader."
To Bronc, what made those days so special was the simple fact that he was having a good time, enjoying his teammates' company and their common love and dedication for wrestling.
Many of those bonds have stuck, with some of his best friends from that time still wrestling with him at Del Norte High.
State tournament looms
Bronc is currently in Norwalk for the North Coast Section Championships, which conclude today. If he places in the top four, as expected, he will qualify for state for the second year in a row.
Last year, McCovey was battling a flu, got extremely sick after his first match, and had to pull out of the state tournament.
"It was pretty disappointing," Bronc said.
It instilled in him a deep hunger to work even harder and come back this season better than ever. The state tournament begins next Friday in Bakersfield. McCovey said he is determined to win the state title.
Bronc demonstrated he was a major contender for the state crown at the Mission San Jose Tournament in the Bay Area earlier this month.
In the championship match, he faced the No. 1 heavyweight in the state, Jonathen Zamora of Clovis High, who came in undefeated.
Bronc pinned him in the first period.
"It didn't surprise me," Boulby said. "It doesn't matter how good they are, when he's on, he's on."
"He just keeps coming and keeps going after an opponent," Luis said. "I wouldn't want him after me."
McCovey wrestled in the 215-division last season but now wrestles in the heavyweights, which goes up to 285.
Boulby said a major reason his son moved up a division is to prepare him for college, where there is no 215-pound division.
McCovey weighs only about 240 pounds, but uses his quickness and technique to overwhelm bigger wrestlers, even if they may be stronger.
"A lot of times they don't have good technique," McCovey said. "They just use their strength."
McCovey said he tries to quickly make a move "so they don't even have a chance" to react and make a counter-move.
Colleges are calling
All the success has not gone to his head.
"I've got to always push myself," he said. "I just need to keep doing what I've been doing ... You can't be overconfident because there is someone else out there that is working as hard or harder than you."
McCovey has already received many letters of interest from colleges around the country. By NCAA rules, colleges can't speak to him directly until later this summer.
Bronc is ecstatic to know he has a good chance to continue his wrestling career.
Colleges that have shown interest include the University of Florida, Virginia Tech and Oregon State, McCovey said.
Bronc is intrigued by OSU because it has a good program, competes in the Pac-10 and is close to home.
"I really like that I could continue to do what I love and get a free education," McCovey said.
Boulby said he is proud of his son's success, but what makes him most proud is when people come up to him and say "what a good kid" his son is.
To his father, wrestling in the youth program instilled in his son the discipline and respect to become a good, solid citizen.
That's why Boulby said he loves to be involved in youth wrestling, to help the children of the community both on and off the mat.
He said the discipline and skills his son learned from Luis and his fellow youth coaches were vital in his son's development.
"They instilled the right attitude in him," Boulby said. "They got him on the right track."
Bronc comes from a tight- knit family that includes his four siblings.
His brothers Robert, 12, and Ta-Tes, 8, wrestle in the youth league.
Robert has developed into a solid wrestler, while Ta-Tes, by all accounts, is one of the top wrestlers in his age group in the area.
McCovey beams when talking about his brothers.
He said Ta-Tes has been "wrestling since he was in diapers. He's always been into wrestling."
Bronc has become a source of pride with the Yurok Tribe, of which he is a member. In his family tree he also has Hoopa as well.
In turn, he said he is proud of his heritage and hopes to show the youth of the entire community, including tribal members, that through hard work and dedication one can achieve his goals and dreams.
Before his sophomore year, McCovey wrestled in a national tournament in Fargo, N.D., and placed near the top. He was unable to attend last year, but plans to go to both the dual meets in Fargo in June and the individual meet in July, also in Fargo.
Boulby said this will only help his son hone his wrestling skills and to show those from around the country that Roger McCovey is one of the best wrestlers in the nation.
His father estimates it will cost about $5,000 to have his son go to both tournaments. In the past he has sought donations from the community to help and is doing so again.
For information on donating for Bronc's trip, or for youth wrestling sign-up information, call Roger Boulby at 954-6397.