Wrestling: That looks like it hurts; West Covina’s A.J. Guardado living dream at Duke

By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
A.J. Guardado considers himself just a wrestler, nothing more. But he also understands the importance of being the first West Covina High School graduate to receive a scholarship to Duke University, one of the top private institutions in the country, and what that may mean to others at West Covina or any other area school who one day may want to follow in his path. (To continue click thread)

“(Some people) look at me like I’m some type of idol,” Guardado said. “But I don’t look at it that way. If I can inspire others, that’s great. When I (come home to) West Covina or with the the kids on the wrestling team, I try to tell them the things they should be doing, things they shouldn’t which would be detrimental to their wrestling careers.

“I never looked at myself as a role model. I think if people see what I’ve been able to do and they can take something away from it, that’s good. But I’m not like, `Hey, look at me, be like me.’ ”

If anything, Guardado inspires by example.

At West Covina, from where he graduated in 2007, he was one of the top competitors in the area and twice advanced to the CIF State championships. He placed seventh his senior year. He also was a CIF-Southern Section division finalist twice and won four San Antonio League titles.

But it was his performance during the annual senior nationals meet in 2007 that earned him a ticket to Duke.

“I really lucked out,” said Guardado, whose plans to attend Stanford were wiped out when the then-Cardinal coach took a job at Maryland. “I was like, `I guess I’m going to UC Davis,’ which isn’t a bad school. But I was hoping to go to Harvard or Yale. Then the head coach (Clar Anderson) at Duke saw me at the senior nationals and called me up and said, `You’re good, you got good wrestling credentials and accomplished this and that, and you got a good (grade-point average) and test scores. I can get you in here.’

“I didn’t get accepted until late May or early June. I kind of took a gamble on it because there were other schools who were closing windows for scholarships. I told myself, “I’m going to wait to get into Duke. If I don’t, I don’t know what was going to happen after that.’ Luckily, I got in. It was a gamble, but it paid off.”

The hard work is continuing for the junior after getting limited action for a variety of reasons in his first two years in Durham, N.C., including redshirting this season.

Guardado was named Duke’s most outstanding freshman in 2007-08 after going 13-15 while competing at 141 pounds. He switched to 149 his sophomore season and was 8-6, and after suffering two injuries prior to this season decided to redshirt.

He is allowed to compete at non-invitational tournaments as a non-affiliated competitor, and was 4-4 while placing at one tournament.

The West Covina native also continues to practice with the team and helps out at tournaments and team dual meets. It’s a necessary routine, but not an easy one for Guardado.

“I go to every practice and go to most competitions with the team,” he said. “I try to help out. (Recently), we had a dual against (North Carolina,) which is our rival, and just sitting there and cheering and not being able to wrestle was really trying.”

But he also understands that’s what teammates do, a trait he learned while at West Covina under coaches Donnie and Shirley Stephens.

“Donnie and Shirley are a big part of my life,” Guardado said. “I talk to them very often. They really, really believe if you can get these kids on (the wrestling) team to look at it like a family, they are going to come together. I know if I was losing a match, I tried to battle through because I didn’t want to let my team down.

“I still talk to a lot of my teammates who I graduated with. My dad passed away my freshman year (at West Covina), and there was a point were I contemplated not wrestling and then decided to wrestle. (The Stephenses) were totally supportive. They were very instrumental to helping me pick myself up and get on with life.”

He continues to honor that faith at Duke.


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  • Brian Baiotto

    great job on A.J. He is a true success story and is one of those rare kids who didn’t allow bumps in the road to impede his path to the top. He was part of a year that the SGV was arguably the best wrestling area in So Cal with South Hills’ Thomas Williams and Jonathan Aguirre, Northview’s Steven De La Fuente, San Dimas’ Angel Garcia and Diamond Bar’s Marcus Johnson, just to name a few that sent 20 or so to state and 5 placed. AJ overcame the loss of his dad because of his strong family bonds with his blood family and his wrestling family at WC, headed by Donnie and Shirley Stephens and down to his brothers for life; Taylor, Chris, George and the rest of the crew. I know as well as anyone that wrestling doesn’t get the coverage they deserve, but Steve Ramirez is one of those rare guys that gets it. Thanks, Steve. A J is definitely a role model for all, because not only does he work hard, he is a great person.

  • Dan

    Awesome, way to go A.J., nice article Steve.

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