Another Payson High School wrestler has decided to continue his career at Western State College of Colorado.
Last week, senior Larry Wilbanks officially accepted a scholarship offer from Mountaineer head coach Miles Van Hee.
Although the scholarship is not a full-ride, former PHS coach Dave LaMotte describes it as a very lucrative offer that will pay much of Wilbanks' college expenses.
Wilbanks expects the scholarship to become nearly a full ride by the time his sophomore season rolls around.
At Western State, Wilbanks will join ex-Longhorns George Coleman, R.C. LaHaye and Zack Lee on the wrestling team.
According to Van Hee, the coaching staff is welcoming Wilbanks with open arms.
"We are really fired up to get Larry to join an elite group as well as some of his former teammates that are already here at Western," Van Hee said. "We are also looking forward to working with an exceptional athlete like Larry."
During a recruiting visit to the school, Wilbanks quizzed the three former Horns about their experiences at the school.
"They all really liked it," he said. "That helped me make the decision to go there."
Wilbanks said he was also impressed by the friendly, small school atmosphere.
"It's a lot like Payson. It's very clean, it's in the mountains and there's only about 2,000 kids," he said.
Wilbanks also wanted to attend a school with a strong wrestling program.
"They were fourth at the NCAA Division II championships and second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference," he said.
Four-year letter winner
Wilbanks wrapped up his Payson High career as one of the most accomplished wrestlers to emerge from the storied Longhorn mat program.
As a 160-pound senior, he won the Grand Canyon region weight class title, the Class 4A state championship and
finished with a impressive 52-0 mark. At the conclusion of the year, he was selected to participate in the Arizona Coaches Association Red vs. Blue All-Star match. His opponent was Class 5A weight class champ Alex Pavlenco of Tempe Marcos de Niza.
Pavlenco, who was undefeated and the recipient of an Arizona State University scholarship, was the more heralded of the two.
In the practice days leading up to the clash, Wilbanks refused to be impressed the big city media attention and the favorite's role directed Pavlenco's way.
Just as most predicted, the match took on the aura of a junk-yard dog fight.
With the score deadlocked 1-1 and less than two seconds on the clock, Wilbanks perfectly executed a shoot move and a take down that earned him two match winning points.
With the 3-1 victory, Wilbanks had bragging rights as the finest 160-pound wrestler in Arizona.
Weeks later, he traveled to Cleveland, Ohio for the Senior National Championships. Although he wrestled well, Wilbanks dropped two very close decisions.
As a 160-pound junior, Wilbanks finished 44-1 and won both the East region and 3A conference championships. His one loss was a 4-3 decision in double overtime to a Tempe High grappler.
During Wilbanks' sophomore year he compiled a 38-8 mark in the 135-pound division. He also won the East region crown and was a state runner-up.
As a skinny 112-pound freshman, Wilbanks claimed the East championship and battled to sixth place at the state tournament.
For Wilbanks, there was no secret to his success.
"I had good coaches all the way through high school and they helped me work hard," he said.
During his final two seasons, Wilbanks also took advantage of the leverage he had from his 6-foot, 2-inch lanky frame. He has a reputation as a wrestler who is fundamentally sound and excels with take downs.
At Western, Wilbanks anticipates he'll major in business administration with an emphasis on entrepreneur studies.