Charlie Gilstrap's first wrestling match this season was more like a marathon for the Oakdale High junior.
"I was one week out of football season, and I wanted to wrestle in the Riddle," said Gilstrap, speaking of Oakdale's own early-season tournament. "I learned really fast that there's a big difference between football shape and wrestling shape.
"I was up early and I gassed out. I ended up losing."
Gilstrap has come a long way since then.
Last week, he won the individual championship at 215 pounds at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament at the University of the Pacific.
And this weekend, he's one of a record 30 Stanislaus District wrestlers who will descend upon Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield for the CIF State Wrestling Championships.
Gilstrap competed at 171 pounds last year, and was an early elimination at Masters.
"This summer, I ditched my social life and spent hours in the weight room, every day," Gilstrap said. "Basically four hours a day of intense workouts."
The new weight class seems to suit him just fine.
"It's a different style," Gilstrap said. "It's a lot more about brute strength."
Turlock sophomore Brandon Egleston won the section Masters title at 103 pounds last week, and is one of five district wrestlers in that weight class going to Bakersfield. He'll be joined by Beyer's Jake Congleton, Central Catholic's Tanner Feuerstein, Oakdale's Jake Butler and Escalon's Christian Franks. Feuerstein is the only district freshman to be going to state.
"It's pretty exciting," said Egleston, who won a state Cadet title over the summer, beating several of the wrestlers in the field at Bakersfield. "You work so hard for it, and now it's finally here."
Story continues below video
The top district contenders happen to be from the same weight class. Merced's Chris Urquizo is ranked No. 1 in the state, while Central Catholic's T.J. Belton is ranked No. 2 in the 152-pound division.
The two hooked up in the section Masters championship last week, with Urquizo taking a 3-0 victory. He took down Belton in the final seconds of the first period, then rode him out in the third for the win. The two could very easily face off again, only this time for a state title.
"Anything can happen at state," said Urquizo, a state runner-up as a sophomore two years ago. "We could see each other again. You just never know."
Oakdale sophomore Shane Tate was another section Masters champion; he won at 125 pounds.
A section runner-up last year, Tate knows the importance of winning the section.
"It's big for a couple of reasons," Tate said. "First, it's always good to be going to state with the momentum of having won your last tournament.
"And second, it's good for your draw in the bracket. Usually section champs get better draws."
For the record, if Tate keeps winning, he won't see a state-ranked wrestler until the quarterfinals.
Then there's Turlock sophomore Fabian Garcia, who won a section championship yet still has a tough draw.
Garcia, who won section gold at 119 pounds last week, could see state-ranked wrestlers in every match, should he keep winning. And the way Garcia has been wrestling, he could make a lengthy run.
As a freshman, Garcia placed eighth in the section, only earning a berth to state when the Oakland Section didn't send a representative. He turned it around at Bakersfield, placing seventh and becoming the first Bulldog to ever earn a state medal as a freshman.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Garcia said. "It's nice to be going to state as a champion instead of what happened last year.
"Hopefully I can keep it up at Bakersfield, too."
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at email@example.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.