MANKATO — Keanu Rodriguez has been named a captain for the 2013-14 Mankato East wrestling team and it's a role he has chosen to embrace.
The senior 160-pounder wants to lead by example and wants to help the team's young, up-and-coming wrestlers learn as much as he can. If, by doing that, he can make the team better, then he will view his final season as a success.
"I enjoy helping the younger guys because I was there once myself," Rodriguez said. "We're a pretty young team so if I can show the underclassmen the right way to do things and help them out when they ask questions, that's a good thing."
East head coach Jon Dierks said Rodriguez's work ethic alone is a great example for the younger wrestlers.
"He's a hard worker and the other kids see that," the coach said. "He's been in our program for six years and the guys watch him and follow his lead.
"He doesn't get all vocal and in your face. He's more of a quiet leader."
While Rodriguez is mainly a team-oriented guy, that doesn't mean he's without any personal goals.
Rodriguez made a huge jump on varsity last season, going from three wins as a sophomore to 17 wins as a junior. Now he wants to take the next step.
"I'd like to get to 20 wins," he said. "It would be great to qualify for state but we're in a pretty tough section so it will be challenge. That's something that's always good to shoot for."
Rodriguez competes in only one sport at East and, the fact that he chose wrestling, is not surprising. He father, Juan, wrestled at Gaylord High School and, his little brother Wyatt is involved in the elementary program.
"I guess it's in my blood a little bit," Rodriguez said. "It's a good sport because it requires lot of mental and physical discipline."
The Cougars have 28 kids out for wrestling in grades 9-12. Nearly half of those 28 — 13 to be exact — are freshmen.
"Our strength is going to be in the middle weights and then at the top end," Dierks said. "The way it's looking now our first five weight classes could be all freshmen."
The two top returners for the Cougars are Logan Swanson at heavyweight (19-13 last season) and Nick Makovsky at 195 (20-18). Ben Winans is back at 220 pounds after a 19-15 season and 145-pounder Dalton Nelson won 16 matches a year ago.
Dierks has set some specific goals for the team and believes all of them are doable. The Cougars went 9-16 last season and wants to get back to 10 wins or more.
He'd also like to see the team finish in the top half of the Big Nine Conference. His third goal is to end the season with at least five wrestlers who have 20 or more wins.
"Those are within our grasp," Dierks said. "If the guys are willing to put the work in I think we can make it happen."