By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — There isn’t any space for a vehicle in Dacoda Flenard’s garage.
Maybe you could squeeze a car to the side of the weight bench, but then you’d have to park it on top of the makeshift wrestling mat created from various pads of foam taped together.
“The Dungeon,” as Flenard refers to it, isn’t big enough for full-on sparring, yet it gets the job done for him to run drills. This is where the North Port High School senior dedicated countless hours on the way to a wrestling state championship in 2015-16.
This is where he became the Sun’s All-Area wrestler of the year.
“Throughout the season, a win was a win, but if I had lost it wouldn’t have mattered,” Flenard said. “All that mattered were those four matches at the state championships. I could’ve gone 2-40 during the year if it meant I won the state championship.”
When Flenard defeated Sarasota’s Jarred Hardinger in a 3-2 decision to win that state title, it capped a decorated career that included four district championships, two regional championships, two fifth-place state medals, and finally the 170-pound Class 3A state title.
Perhaps, most impressively, that last match was his 200th career win, making him 200-18 over his time with the Bobcats. North Port coach Mark Kemble and Venice’s Dan Kelly believe he’s the winningest wrestler in Sarasota County history, putting him in the exclusive, one-member 200-win club.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Kemble said. “It’s hard to get that many matches and be successful and stick with it that long. I think Dacoda has set a standard, and he’s been a very good leader. He’s laid the ground work of hard work, dedication and discipline we expect from our wrestlers.”
Entering his senior year, a state championship was the only thing missing from Flenard’s expansive trophy case, which spans two different rooms in his house, and boasts dozens of plaques and scores of medals.
The quest for a state championship was a difficult one all the way to the end. His final opponent, Hardinger, was a very familiar foe.
They had previously faced each other three times in the season, with Flenard holding a 2-1 advantage, including wins in both the district and regional finals.
“(Hardinger) doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, so he has a style that’s hard for Dacoda to beat,” Flenard’s dad, Larry Langford, said. “To beat a kid one time is one thing, but to beat a kid three weeks in a row is tough. Their coaches are going into it knowing the only kid who could beat Jarred was Dacoda. They’re training for him.”
Just as they predicted, in the semifinal match to see who would face Flenard, Hardinger defeated Lyman’s Kahtrell Treadwell, who had defeated Flenard in last year’s tournament 7-3, setting up Flenard-Hardinger IV.
It was a slow-paced match, as Flenard quickly built a lead he spent the final two periods protecting. Staying low to the mat, Flenard displayed a Floyd Mayweather-esque approach by quickly escaping any threat his opponent attempted.
When the final whistle was blown, tears flowed from Flenard’s face as his dreams became a reality. He searched for a familiar face to hug, and found Kemble, who was sitting at one corner of the mat.
His parents, Reni Willis and Langford, beaming with pride, sprinted across the middle of the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, as Willis jumped into Flenard’s out-stretched left arm, while his right hand continued to wipe the tears from his face.
“We’re extremely proud. Our buttons are popping every day,” Willis said. “It was a dream come true for him, and he’s deserved it. He pushed so hard.”
Although it’s Flenard’s name on all those plaques and medals, Willis and Langford invested plenty of time and energy of their own to get him there.
Langford was the trainer, and Willis was the dietitian.
“He’s the bad cop, she’s the good cop,” Flenard said. “They were the ones who helped me. My whole life has been about winning a state championship, so it was cool to share that moment with them.”
Flenard isn’t the only wrestler in the family. Brother Ty was a regional qualifier for North Port as a sophomore this year while 7th-grade brother Lucas Willis was the top-ranked 106-pounder in Class 1A.
They’re not just a wrestling family. They’re arguably North Port’s first family of wrestling.
“We’ve put a lot of time into it over the years,” Langford said. “Whether it’s finding the right places to work out, or finding them the right people to work out with, it’s been a lot.”
It was the youngest brother, Lucas, who first decided to start wrestling, as Flenard was initially put off by the sport’s uniforms and was involved in football at the time.
Eventually, Flenard attended one of his brother’s matches, and thought he could easily excel at the sport.
He was right.
Flenard recently committed to wrestle at Emmanuel College, earning a scholarship to attend the school in Franklin Springs, Ga. He helped draw a road map for his younger brothers if they choose to pursue a higher education.
“He makes me want to win at states next year,” Lucas said. “He worked really hard for it. I’m pretty cocky when it comes to wrestling, but I see how hard it was for him.”
But in the meantime, even with Flenard in college, there still won’t be any room in the garage. Ty and Lucas still need “The Dungeon” to help get their state championships.
Imagine – 7th grade – 106 pounds
Won a district championship, and was the top-ranked in Class 1A at his weight before being disqualified from the regional tournament due to an eligibility violation. Willis will have to wait for his eighth-grade year to potentially capture his first state title.
Charlotte – Senior – 106 pounds
Went 40-1 during the regular season on the way to a strong finish to his senior year. He collected a district and regional championship on the way to a runner-up showing at the Class 2A state tournament.
Charlotte – Senior – 113 pounds
Won his first match at the state championships before falling in the second round. Rubenacker won 37 matches in his first and only season as a wrestler.
Lemon Bay – Sophomore – 113 pounds
Rebounded from an injury in his freshman year to go 39-7 with 19 pins as a sophomore. He was one of the area’s state-placers, finishing in fifth place in Class 1A.
Lemon Bay – Sophomore – 120 pounds
Stumbled at the end of the year, but tore through the regular season, compiling a 47-11 record with 36 pins. He was a regional qualifier this year.
North Port – Junior – 120 pounds
Won 38 matches in his junior season, earning a trip to the state championships. He was a district runner-up, and placed fourth at regionals.
North Port – Senior – 138 pounds
With a third-place finish at districts, and a second-place at regionals, Henson earned a trip to states in his final year. He earned a pin with two seconds remaining in the tournament’s opening round before falling in the third-place bracket.
Lemon Bay – Senior – 145 pounds
Went 31-11 during the year on the way to a regional and state qualifications.
North Port – Junior – 152 pounds
Had his eyes set on a state title, but had to settle for his second straight third-place finish. He went 31-2 during the regular season and won both district and regional championships for the second straight year.
Charlotte – Sophomore – 152 pounds
Won his way into the state tournament, proving to be one of the Tarpons’ best postseason wrestlers. With a 13-10 record along the way, Cavanaugh was a regional runner-up.
North Port – Senior – 195 pounds
Capped off his Bobcats career with a 33-5 record during the regular season, a district title and regional runner-up honors. He made it to the Class 3A state championship where he won his first match.
Charlotte – Junior – 195 pounds
Had a great regular season and was No. 2 Class 2A 195-pounder headed into the postseason. He was a district runner-up this year, and was on the brink of a state qualification before falling in his final match at regionals.
North Port – Junior – 220 pounds
Went 31-4 during the regular season with a district title and regional third-place finish. He fell in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament, but won each of his final five matches in the consolation bracket to take home a fifth-place medals.
Lemon Bay – Sophomore – 285 pounds
Morales was a surprise as a 10th grader, earning a state qualification after a district championship and regional runner-up finish. A 1-2 record at the state tournament will be something to build on for next year.
Ty Flenard, North Port; Raheem Poteat, Port Charlotte; Josh Washington, Lemon Bay; Austin Wise, Charlotte.