Back in 2011, when Portage's Leroy Vega returned to his prep alma mater to coach wrestling, the Indians favorite son talked about winning state championships some day.
"I want to bring a championship team back to Portage. I want people talking about Portage wrestling again," Vega said then.
The program was OK at the time, but it wasn't anywhere close to that conversation. It had great individuals, but not a great team. Even so, nobody who knows Vega doubted he would get it done eventually and nobody's surprised six years later that he has the Indians in position to capture a state title this season.
"This is what we were hoping for," he said. "It could be one of the best teams Portage has put together in a while. The scary part is, you look at our lineup, yeah, we've got nine seniors, but our JV is ridiculous. They'd finish in the top half of the conference."
Slowly but surely, Vega has been building a powerhouse. He did it like you have to do it, in order to have sustained success in the sport, from the bottom up. The youth program is strong, the middle school program is strong. Go anywhere to a big tournament and Portage is represented, on the mat and on the podium.
The momentum really started to grow with the arrival of the current senior class three years ago. The group has potential champions in Colin Poynter, Kris Rumph and Kasper McIntosh and medalists in Jeremy Torres and Anthony Maceo. That alone would put them in the hunt and the conversation hasn't even included medalist Brock Peele, Illinois move-in D.J. Washington, a state runner-up as a freshman, and newly-eligible Jacob Moran, the top-ranked 106.
If all goes well, it won't be a question of if they win, it will be a question of by how much. Some teams are built for tournament, some teams are built for duals. Portage is built for both. In its room, state qualifiers can lose wrestle-offs. Ranked wrestlers are not guaranteed spots in the lineup.
"We don't have any holes," Vega said. "It's hard to get us down in a meet when we've got seven guys who aren't going to get beat. It's going to be exciting. It's a group that wants to get better. I love that I can be out of the practice room. Every (coach) has a role. Everybody does their job. It's a fine-tuned machine."
As always, Vega believes that iron sharpens iron. The Indians will face their usual top tier of competition, seeing Perry Meridian next week at Lake Central and top-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral the following Saturday at Calumet. They'll once again compete in the coaches association state duals. They'll also travel to Brecksville, Ohio, during the holidays for a tournament that includes at least seven teams ranked in the national top 50. Portage is part of that list, checking in at 35th.
"We're excited," Vega said. "It's fun. This year's group, everybody in the room, sees the price, sees the goal. The big thing is getting everybody to believe."
Vega was saying the same things six years ago. Now the percentages of those heeding the gospel of Leroy is dramatically higher. His vision is close to becoming a reality.