Justin Burrage had plenty of reason to be lethargic this weekend.
Such is the nature when one is ravaged by the flu, with the unsavory perks of a fever, clogged airwaves and a nose that drips faucet fast.
But the Del Oro High School senior craves a challenge, and he embraced this one. On Saturday evening at the Stockton Arena, Burrage found his way to the top of the victory stand, a weary champion capping an improbable season.
In his first go-around in wrestling since the sixth grade, Burrage defeated Niko Chapman of Inderkum 13-6 to take the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters championship at 170 pounds, and a comparable effort by his teammates propelled the Golden Eagles to repeat as Masters champions.
Burrage was the lone Del Oro champion, but depth prevailed as the Golden Eagles accumulated 183.5 points, despite losing key personnel this postseason due to injury. Vacaville was second with 163 points, Folsom third (158), Benicia fourth (151), Elk Grove fifth (146.5) and Ponderosa sixth (139).
And there’s more. Shortly after Burrage prevailed, so did his sister Kaleigh Burrage at the Visalia Convention Center. The junior won the CIF State Girls 137-pound championship with a takedown with 38 seconds remaining in overtime to beat Katrina Guevara of Enochs of Modesto 3-1.
“It’s been a great day,” Burrage said. “I’m proud of what I did, and I’m proud of my sister. We’ve talked about this, that we’ll both try to be state champions. Now I have to match her.”
The top six finishers in each Masters weight class advance to the CIF State Wrestling Championships next weekend in Bakersfield.
It’ll be a Team Burrage event, too, with everyone in one spot this time. On Saturday, Burrage’s parents, Kathy and Robert, watched Kaleigh compete. Burrage was boosted by the coaching and presence of his brother Kevin, who won a Masters title at Del Oro in 2010.
All told, this has been some academic year for the Burrage bunch. Burrage was a standout Bee All-Metro defensive back for Del Oro’s CIF State Division II-AA football title team, but he nearly changed his mind on wrestling. He was that spent. Burrage competed on the mat this winter because he said he doesn’t quit.
Burrage is 32-6 this season with three setbacks coming in his first tournament as he tried to get his legs under him. Football conditioning is completely different than wrestling conditioning. As for rust after six years away from wrestling? Didn’t last for long. Once he got rolling, he rolled, and Burrage went 5-0 over the weekend as one of five area individual champions.
“It’s not easy transitioning from wrestling to football because they’re such different sports,” Burrage said. “My first tournament, I got tired. I was stumbling around. I got better and kept working at it.”
Burrage said the euphoria is different for each sporting achievement.
“Football is a great team sport, and everyone has to come together to make it work,” Burrage said. “In wrestling, it’s all on you and you have to beat the guy across from you. It’s more mental. It’s a different kind of winning and satisfaction in wrestling. It just feels great to win in anything.”
Burrage said his turning point came a month ago. His brother challenged him to a post-practice match. And there was a tidy little wager just to amp it up beyond brotherly pride. Surrounded by cheering and chanting Del Oro teammates and coaches, Burrage beat his older brother 5-2 in a fierce battle.
“Kevin says, ‘Alright, you’re good!’ ” Burrage recalled. “And he paid me the $100, all 20s. I made sure I counted it!
“We’ve always been close, and I trust him. He’s been great coaching me, helping me. He’s definitely been my mentor and has given me confidence. Now just one more week.”
Area Masters champions
126: Devan Turner, Dixon
138: Jack Ramalia, Granite Bay
160: Jason Bergquist, Folsom
170: Justin Burrage, Del Oro
195: Dylan Crane, Folsom