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As if losing weight wasn’t the most difficult thing, Ricco Vasquez wanted to lose it in the most difficult way — he started wrestling.

“I was a pretty chunky, round kid. I wanted to do a sport (because) I didn’t want to feel tired all the time,” he said.

Tired? He didn’t yet know the meaning.

But the tired the Healdsburg High senior feels today is a wholly different kind of tired than he felt just a few years ago.

Today’s tired is the fatigue of a stellar workout, of not letting up, of getting a run in, of drilling against a coach for two hours who outweighs him by a few pounds.

Vasquez sprints on the double whistle, jogs on the one. He goes hard, he goes steady.

“Freshman year I could barely run around and keep up with the other guys in the warm up,” he said. “Now I’m beating some of the skinnier kids. I’d say I came a long way.”

He’s not lying.

“He probably couldn’t run a lap as a freshman,” longtime Greyhounds coach Scott Weidemier said. “Now we go on five mile runs, it’s not even a thing for him.”

I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a thing. Effort is etched on Vasquez’s face. That’s the beauty of it for him.

“I wanted to do the hardest thing,” he said of wrestling.

And this from a guy who also suits up for the Healdsburg football squad.

“You are pretty much using your body as a tool,” he said. “You can’t really hide behind a team. It’s just you against him.”

‘You against him’ has been working out pretty well for Vasquez. He was 27-9 last season and was the Sonoma County League champ at 220 pounds after finishing second as a sophomore.

Vasquez is expected to be a key component of the Hounds’ bid to repeat as Sonoma County League champs this season. He went 5-0 as a heavyweight in the Healdsburg Duals Invitational last month, earning an early season athlete of the week honor from his team.

Healdsburg opens league competition at home Wednesday against a tough El Molino squad.

“He’s turned into a pretty darned good wrestler and he just missed placing at our section meet last year,” Weidemier said.

That might be too bad for whoever has to face Vasquez late in the season this year. It seems to have lit a fire in the naturally mellow Vasquez.

He’ll likely wrestle heavyweight for most of the Hounds’ dual meets but come post season, he’ll focus on the 220-pound weight class.

What a difference from the freshman version of himself.

“It’s confidence,” assistant coach and head junior varsity coach Tim Weidemier said. “He walks into the room and knows he can wrestle anyone around.”

But Vasquez insists he’s still learning.

“Every day — that’s just life,” he said.

Work ethic?

“He’s the best,” Tim Weidemier said. “He asks questions, he responds, he listens. It’s what you look for as a coach.”

Tim Weidemier should know. He gets stuck drilling with Vasquez most days. And Vasquez, who can look exhausted between reps, never lets up. The kid works so hard the sole of his right shoe is worn through.

After Scott Weidemier got after Vasquez for unclasping his hands around his foe’s leg at a practice last week, the senior locked in so tight his hands turned a mottled red and white. His face was a sweaty grimace.

He’s had that drive since his freshman year.

“You could just see him trying to absorb information and working harder,” Scott Weidemier said.

As the practice wears on, Vasquez’s black T-shirt with Chewbaca holding a skateboard on it starts to droop around the neck, soaked in sweat. He occasionally presses his forehead to the mat between sets, but he presses on.

He says he’d rather train hard and lose than give a half effort and rack up wins. I believe him.

Twenty-seven wins last season and that 220-pound title were great, but one gets the feeling that Vasquez’s journey means more to him than a title. One also gets the sense that his journey is not quite finished.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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