TURLOCK — Mike Contreras accepts the puffy spot above his right eye, a nasty-looking hurt not unlike a boxer's injury, like a badge of honor.
Contreras, the Turlock High wrestling coach, incurred that injury at the hands of junior Fabian Garcia, one of the best in Northern California. They get along fine, of course, but only the coach can hang on the mat with Garcia.
"It's hard for him to find a good workout partner. His skill level is high," Contreras said. "I'm just closest to him in weight, so we wrestle daily. I don't kick his butt, and he doesn't kick mine."
That welt looks like Garcia does better than a standoff with his coach. And there would be no shame in that.
Garcia, a junior, was the alpha male among about 250 wrestlers comprising 22 schools Saturday at the 18th Turlock Bulldog Classic. His pedigree, already upscale by his seventh as a freshman and a fourth last year at the State Championships, was enhanced by his three pins spanning only 4:07 in the 125-pound weight class.
Not only was he the clearcut choice as the tournament's Champion of Champions, he also served notice that he's serious about his goal — a state title.
"Today was good for me," said Garcia, who needed only 1:24 to stop Los Banos junior Jorge Munos in the tournament final. "I'm working with my coach on defending against shots (to his legs)."
This just in: Garcia (15-2), ranked second in the state in his class, is an advanced student. He's no doubt the best product of Turlock's successful program since 2003 and '04 state champion Lewis Gonzalez, and both placed fourth in the state as sophomores.
"He's right on track," Contreras said.
Garcia, a Livingston resident and the second-oldest of five children, has wrestled since he was 8. Though he was a skilled soccer player who also played two years of football, he belonged in a singlet from Day 1.
"Fabian is a beast on the mat," said his mother Maria Elena. "He is an overall good kid and role model. If he needs to take charge, he takes charge."
In fact, Garcia arrives home earlier than his mom and sometimes cooks the family dinner. His favorite preparation is enjitomatadas (tomatoes and chile), and he doesn't sweat guilt trips about a dessert of pineapple upside-down cake.
"I don't have problems making weight," he said, "so I just eat it and run it off."
Garcia cooks in a far different way, of course, when it comes to wrestling. Strong and smart, he must resemble a batch of barbed wire to an opponent. He's almost never off-balance and will react favorably to any foe's move.
"He can scramble (a series of moves) and he'll come out on top. And if he doesn't, he'll come out neutral," Contreras said. "You can't teach that."
Garcia and fellow Turlock champions Garret Furtado (103) and Julian Talamante (130) anchored the Bulldogs' second-place finish behind team winner Nevada Union. Also winning were Waterford pair Erick Gomez (171) and Michael Robles (heavyweight), Summerville tandem Cody Ainslie and Cody Stoy (189), and Greg Hartman (152) of third-place Los Banos.
Meanwhile, Garcia operates at a higher level. Opponents appear happy to just survive. Enochs senior Ricky Miranda can take consolation in the fact he at least reached the second round this time.
"He's quick and very experienced and knows what moves he wants," Miranda said. "I almost took him down in the first round."
Garcia's coach can relate.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.