Bronson Harmon went to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters and CIF State championships not as a wrestler, but a spectator.
From the stands, the former Oakdale High star -- who said he was "forcefully kicked off the team" by coach Steve Strange in January after he refused to cut more than 30 pounds -- sized up the competition at his desired weights.
"It was really difficult for me to sit there," Harmon said. "We went to Masters and state, and just looking at the 170- and 184-pound brackets, I wasn't happy. I knew I would have went out there and done much better than the guys put into those brackets."
He may have a point.
After two months out of the spotlight, Harmon returned to the winner's circle at a major event last weekend, competing "at a healthy and safe weight," according to his mother, DeeAnn Harmon.
Harmon captured the 18-and-under 184-pound title at the Terminator World Championships in Prescott Valley, Ariz., finishing an impressive run with a 4-3 decision over Cody Manuelito in the final. Harmon was 4-0, including wins over Gabe Garcia (decision, 8-1), Colin Mosbarger (pin, 2:26) and Noah Wells (pin, 1:07). He received a first-round bye.
"I was nervous, but I was also very excited. Since I didn't wrestle this year, it really gave me the motivation to prove to everybody that I haven't lost anything," Harmon said. "I know I'm still the best. I also wanted to prove to Cal Poly that I'm ready to come there and compete."
Harmon signed a national letter of intent with Cal Poly wrestling in November.
A two-time All-District and all-Valley Oak League football player, Harmon's senior wrestling season came to a screeching halt in January after he and coach Strange disagreed on Harmon's preferred weight class.
Strange said the family hand-picked the 160-pound weight class, where Harmon was a two-time defending Masters champion, returning CIF State medalist (fourth), and Northern California's No. 2 wrestler at that weight.
There was just one problem: Harmon was no longer 160 pounds.
With the bulk of football and the natural growth of a teenager, Harmon tipped the scales at more than 190 pounds. Cutting 30 pounds put Harmon's health at risk, the family said.
"He got (to 160s) for about five minutes, just to make weigh-ins," DeeAnn Harmon, Bronson's mother, told The Bee following the Battle for the Belt at Temecula Valley in January.
"To get there, he was running four miles in the morning, four miles in the evening, going to wrestling practice and not eating. It was a safety concern for us."
Harmon says he wasn't given a chance to prove himself at a heavier weight and tweeted that he was "forcefully kicked off the team."
Strange said he never removed Harmon from the team -- "I'd love to have him back," he told The Bee, "the door is open" -- but the longtime coach wasn't willing to move wrestlers out of the heavier weight classes to accommodate Harmon.
Two months in the shadows fueled Harmon's charge through the 184-pound bracket in Arizona. Trailing 3-2 in the final, Harmon secured the championship with a takedown with 10 seconds left.
"That's all I wanted and I wasn't given that chance," Harmon said. "That gave me a chip on my shoulder this past week. I wanted to show the Oakdale wrestling organization what they missed out on.
"It gave me the fire to come back. 'You may not have it anymore,' or, 'He's been off the mat for awhile' -- I wanted to prove to everybody that they were wrong."
Harmon trained with Isaiah Perez of Pitman, a Fresno State commit and four-time state qualifier, inside the Pride wrestling room.
Perez narrowly missed becoming the first CIF State champion in school history. He capped his brilliant prep career with a second at state in the 220-pound weight class.
"He's heavier than me, obviously, but he taught me some new things that helped me," Harmon said of Perez. "Overall, he was a great partner to have. I look forward to training with him and getting better."
Harmon said the Cal Poly coaching staff was unfazed by the drama that unfolded around one of their top recruits.
"They're 100 percent in my corner and very supportive," said Harmon, who wrestle at the Flo Reno Worlds in April and plans to compete at 184 pounds in college. "At first I wasn't sure what was going to happen, because I've never been in this situation.
"But some of the (Cal Poly) coaches said they went through similar situations. They just wanted to see me stay in shape and get ready for college."