Prep wrestling

Portage wrestler Roach only knows one speed

2013-01-29T17:00:00Z 2013-01-30T00:39:04Z Portage wrestler Roach only knows one speedJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
January 29, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

For Danny Roach, a wrestling match is a six-minute battle of physical and mental wills.

"I'm like a grinder," the Portage senior said. "I keep going, moving forward. I don’t stop until the end. I try to be consistent the whole time. The way I start, I try to finish the same way. You feel guys slowly dwindle and when they break, they're dead tired, it feels really rewarding."

A recent match typified Roach's relentless approach. He was taken down twice in the first period to trail 4-1, only to wind up winning by major decision.

"You wrestle Danny, you don't want to wrestle him ever again," Portage coach Leroy Vega said. "He's always on someone's head, always pushing, letting them know he's there, not giving them any space to breathe. He keeps going and doesn't stop until the ref blows the whistle. If this is the line, he takes it right to it, which I love."

Roach has parlayed that style into a 24-5 record at 152 pounds. Ironically, he began the season by losing a wrestle-off for 145 to Stephon Wilkins.

"We made the decision — it's your senior year, why not lift weights, get bigger and go 52?" Vega said. "He's a pretty small 52, but (he makes up for it) with his physical strength, mental strength, ability and (desire) to win. He's tough, hard-nosed kid."

A back-up to Luis Acuna as a freshman and sophomore, Roach earned the varsity spot at 138 last year. He won 28 matches and came within one victory of a state berth.

"It really hurt, but I've got this year," he said. "I had to come back and work harder to get farther. My goal is to go to state. I feel confident in my goal. I don't want to not imagine it. I have a great mindset going in."

The mindset was forged in the practice room, where Vega presses his wrestlers' limits, both in body and mind.

"It's brutal," Roach said. "Every day, somebody cries. I've cried. If one guy's slacking, we all pay. We try to go where you can't go anymore, than go a little farther. It's worth it. You get to a point in a match when you think you're tired and you can always do more."

Roach benefits more directly by getting to drill with Vega, a two-time state champion at Portage and an all-American at Minnesota.

"It's a privilege," Roach said. "Wrestling him all practice, I feel like I'm going to die. I can't breathe. It's pretty weird wrestling a guy some people think is a living legend. Everyone on the team idolizes him. He did what everybody wants to do and he did it several times."

With Roach, Vega has someone he knows he doesn't have to monitor, other than his propensity for colorful language.

"Sometimes I have to smack him on the head for cussing," Vega said. "He drills hard, he works hard, no matter what. The way he is in the practice room is the way he wrestles. He's like the old-school South Haven kid, which I mean as a compliment. I was a South Haven kid. I wish I had 30 like him. He'll run through a wall if you ask him to. I've believed since the beginning he was a guy who places at state if he puts the work into it, which he has."

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