Since Mike Boyd became the wrestling head coach at Riverside-Brookfield High School in 2013, he has brought stability and success to the program.
Entering his third season at the helm this year, Boyd has seen the number of wrestlers expand from 16 to 88 (including 14 females). Last season, RBHS produced a historic campaign with 12 sectional and six state qualifiers. The Bulldogs are 12-1 this season.
Establishing a strong identity in short order for RBHS wrestling, Boyd freely admits Class 3A two-time defending state champion Oak Park and River Forest served as an ideal template.
“I’m not going to lie, I emulate my program 100 percent after Oak Park and River Forest,” said Boyd, who coached at OPRF under the legendary Mike Powell before coming to RBHS. “When I first arrived at Oak Park, Coach Powell was always preaching to the kids about the concept of relentless pursuit. I’ve tried to bring that approach and mentality (to RB), which basically means outworking everybody and reaching the maximum of your ability.”
In addition to his life-changing experience at OPRF, Boyd previously coached wrestling at Nazareth High School. During his stellar high school wrestling career at St. Rita, Boyd amassed a 175-12 record, highlighted by a 50-0 mark as a state champion in the 145-pound class in 2001.
While those experiences certainly prepared Boyd well for the opportunity at RBHS, his first priority with the Bulldogs was establishing credibility.
“When I first got to RB, I was just an outsider. I was the guy selling empty promises that the kids had heard before,” Boyd said. “The wrestlers in our program had two or three coaches before me so it was a hard transition.
“They started to see my work ethic though and how I put in a 12 to 15 hour workday seven days a week and 365 days of the year. Once they started to buy in to what I promised, everything became easier.”
Although the Bulldogs have moved up to Class 3A this season (RBHS was 2A in 2014), the team appears well equipped for change with returning state qualifiers Al’Lon Carter (220-pound class), Tommy Russell (113) and Josh Contreras (126) leading the way.
“We’re just approaching things like normal and taking it match by match,” Russell said about wrestling in 3A. “Coach Boyd pushes us to be the best we can be. I like his coaching style because I like to be challenged. I’m sure everyone else on our team feels the same way.”
Carter, a three-sport athlete, went 20-3 and finished fifth in the state at 220 pounds in the Class 2A state finals last season.
“Al’Lon was a throw away from being a state champion last year,” Boyd said. “He’s a big, physical talent who has been coming to my wrestling camps since sixth grade. With the move (from Class 2A to 3A), Al’Lon will have a battle this season but he’s a great competitor.”
Russell and Contreras are poised for more success this season as well.
“Tommy is a real talent and the first RB wrestler to qualify for Team Illinois,” Boyd said. “Josh is kind of our homegrown success story. He had no wrestling experience before high school. I saw him in the hallway one day and asked him about wrestling. Two years later, he was competing in the state tournament.”
The rest of the lineup includes: sophomore Justin Cabanas (106), sophomore Joey Giurini (120), senior Joel Gonzalez (132), junior Julian Blanco (138), junior Maxx Reeze (145), junior Joey Swallow (152), senior Ernesto Bobe (160), junior Emilio Solano (170), sophomore Carson Moreno (182), junior Chris Colvin (195) and junior Alex Hammer (285).
Blanco, a transfer student from Brother Rice, is a major addition to the roster. He finished fourth at 126 pounds in the 3A state finals last year.
“My goal this year is to make it to the state finals,” Blanco said. “We have started off very well this year. What I like about our team is that we are very hard working and close.”