By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
Roger McCovey and Sherman Norton waited anxiously at Del Norte High Wednesday afternoon, ready to take the long drive to Bakersfield.
Starting Friday, the duo competes at the Interscholastic Federation State Championships in Bakersfield.
McCovey (215), ranked seventh in the state in his weight class, garnered first place at the North Coast Section Wrestling Championships last weekend to earn the right to go to state. Norton (285) finished second in his division. He made state last year but did not place.
Full of nervous energy, the pair talked about their road to getting to state, and the bond that has formed between the loud and gregarious Norton and the shy and reserved McCovey.
McCovey was bundled-up in layers of clothing, fighting a nasty flu that he had while wrestling last weekend. He said he went to the doctor and is taking medicine, but still was not feeling too robust.
"I'm still feeling pretty bad," he said, but added he believes he'll be ready to wrestle and make an impact at the tourney.
Asked if he had any thoughts of missing the tournament because of the flu, McCovey gave a shy smile and shook his head.
McCovey and Norton have formed a bond and on many weekends they can be found together in the weight room getting in shape.
Even with his weight advantage, Norton said it's a Herculean task to bring his friend down, and even tougher to pin him.
To Norton, if he can wrestle well in practice against McCovey, he can do it during a match.
Norton is impressed with McCovey's dedication to wrestling and said while his friend is quiet and modest, he is also a lot of fun to be around and is a great teammate.
McCovey said he enjoys Norton's company and said they get along well, although they are quite different.
"Sherman is crazy and loud all the time," McCovey said as he gave a sly grin to Norton.
Last year, both participated in a tournament in Reno. A highlight was the bountiful buffet tables a casino town provides, as they enjoyed themselves at several buffets, filling their plates full of food. Of course, they were kicked out of one establishment for gorging themselves a little bit too much. Norton believes the trouble may have begun when they took an entire pork roast from the banquet table and began devouring it.
McCovey has been wrestling since he was around five-years- old and said he knew from an early age grappling was something he loved to do.
Only a sophomore, he has gained a reputation as a top-notch wrestler. Last summer, he competed at the Cadet Nationals wrestling tournament in Fargo, N.D., and placed fourth in his weight class in Greco Roman Wrestling.
Wrestling runs in his family. His father, also named Roger, wrestled in both high school and college and coaches the Del Norte youth wrestling squad.
While having natural athletic ability, McCovey said he worked hard to be in good shape, exercising and lifting weights so he could be at the top of his wrestling game.
His two younger brothers also are wrestlers. McCovey beamed when he talked about them and said he's a proud big brother.
His youngest brother, Ta-Tes Bulby, while only seven, is shaping up to be quite good, he said. McCovey said his brother has been trying to wrestle since he was in diapers and that he's a natural. His brother Robert, who is 11, is also becoming a good wrestler.
While Norton wrestled a little bit growing up, he did not truly pursue the sport until his freshman year of high school.
While playing freshman football, his coaches recommended that wrestling could help him with conditioning and perhaps help to take of excess weight. At the time, Norton weighed 355 pounds.
Not liking wrestling too much at first, Norton said he grew to enjoy the sport and has worked hard to get in shape. Now a senior, he weighs 280 pounds.
"Unlike football, if you do something wrong it's just you," he said. "But if you do something right, it's also you," adding he likes that responsibility for himself.
Norton said when he made state last year, he was just happy to be there and did not have "that killer instinct." This year, Norton said he has that extra spark to succeed.
"I believe that this year I have that thirst to win," he said.
Head Coach David Bokor said he is extremely proud of how much McCovey and Norton have matured through the years.
Last year, McCovey barely uttered two words at a given time and was more of a follower ¬Ė to now being more outspoken and becoming a leader, his coach said. With Norton, he has become much more disciplined and now understands the importance of being mature and focused both on-and-off the mat.
Bokor said he is looking forward to seeing what his two wrestlers do starting on Friday.
"When it gets to this level it's all a crap shoot," he said. "The wrestling is such high quality it will depend on who is on their game the day of the match."