BOARDMAN - Less than a week removed from the final football game of the 2013 season, Howland's Jordan Radich began his preparations for the wrestling season.
"I didn't really do much wrestling over the summer, so this is my first taste of it in a while," Radich said following two wins in a season-opening tri-match against Austintown Fitch and Boardman on Thursday. "It's a different transition from football. I'm still trying to shake the rust off. I'm feeling like I'm getting back in the right form and this was a good way to get off on the right foot."
Still, he brings to the mat a memento from the Tiger football season. Actually, it's a token from the last two seasons.
"I grew my hair out for football," said Radich, whose stringy brown hair extends past his shoulders. "I haven't got a hair cut since this time two years ago with it coming out of the helmet."
Though he wears a form-fitting cap while he's in competition, the trademark locks aren't going away anytime soon.
"I was contemplating cutting it," Radich said, "but the girls like it too much."
Radich, who earned wins over Boardman's Tyler Dempsey (14-1) and Fitch's Adam Green (6-2) at the 152-pound weight class, leads a crew of young Howland grapplers into the 2013 season.
Last year, Gabe Stark won a state championship at the Division II 145-pound weight class. It was the first title won by a Tiger in 29 years, and Stark is now competing for Cleveland State University.
"It's pretty hard to fill those shoes," Howland sophomore Will Price said. "We had a lot of great seniors leave last year. I feel that we have a chance to really step it up. We're hungry. We got guys who have potential to win state and guys who want to continue this great tradition we have going on."
In his first bout, Price fell 6-5 to Fitch's Tex Martin. But he turned around and pinned Boardman's Rich Kalosky 1:50 seconds into their match.
"After the last match, I knew I had to step it up," said Price, who wrestles at 195 pounds after bouncing through 170, 182 and 195 as a freshman. "The kid was bigger than me, but I wasn't sure if he was stronger than me. I had more speed and a better technique, and that's a tribute to the offseason workouts.
"I'm always focusing on speed work, especially sprints, hitting the weight room hard and going against guys like this."
Price was pointing at Howland freshman Isom Julran.
Julran, at 182 pounds, fell by pin to Fitch's Camran Rezapourian in his first varsity bout. Rezapourian was a state qualifier at the 170-pound class last year.
"There's always going to be someone out there that's working as hard as you, if not harder," Julran said. "I recently lost about 10 pounds because I gained so much in the offseason. But it felt great to be back out there against good competition."
After his second bout, he didn't want it to stop.
Julran pinned Boardman's Devon Washington in 2 minutes, 30 seconds to help secure a 40-30 win over the Spartans.
"It felt great," Julran said. "I'm ready to get after it again. I'll have to get back in the room and prepare for the next one."
He'll have to wait a week as the Tigers return to action Dec. 13-14 at one of the nation's toughest tournaments: The Ironman at Walsh Jesuit High School.
In Howland's win against Boardman, Jimmy Lerakis pinned Steve Sferra in 4:30, Jake Schulman earned a 4-1 decision over Sam Varga, David Brian Whisler, Radich's cousin and a returning state placer, edged Anthony Mancini 3-1, Sam Reesman pinned A.J. Yaist in 5:45 and Mike Bell pinned Jaysen Young in 51 seconds.
"I feel like we'll all get better throughout the year," Radich said. "We did OK, but there's still a lot of work to be done, and we're ready for it."
Radich, Whisler and Bell earned wins in the Tigers' 53-15 loss to Fitch. Fitch also beat Boardman head-to-head, 54-10.
The Falcons next match is against Canfield and Beaver Local, while the Spartans face Massillon Jackson next Thursday.