The recipe for Sam Latona’s wrestling success contains one key ingredient.
“I truly believe I’m one of the hardest workers in the country,” the Thompson High junior said.
Sure, the 120-pound standout, who was the first wrestler from Alabama to win a junior national championship, mixes some natural ability. He also was blessed with excellent throughout club wrestling and during his time in Thompson head coach Shawn Weltzin’s program. He also has some built-in training at home with older brother, Dominic, and younger brother James, even though his Mom didn’t always approve of their brotherly tussles.
Without hard work, though, none of his success is possible.
Latona won his national crown at the Cadet and Junior National Championship in Fargo, N.D. last July. During the high school season, his combined record for last season and the current season is 111-4. He’s missed the past few matches because of an injury but it’s possible he could participate with his teammates on Saturday as they attempt to win the AHSAA Class 7A State Dual Championship in a match against Bob Jones. Wrestling is slated to begin at 1 p.m. at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
For Latona, his introduction into the sport - when he was four or five years old – had a rocky beginning.
“My first year, I was pretty terrible,” said Latona, who followed his older brother, Dominic, into the sport. “I probably won 3 or 4 matches. I’d get off the mat and I’d be crying.”
A few years later, Latona not only had fallen in love with the sport but was also having success. He decided in sixth grade that his intention was to be a college wrestler. Things changed a bit, when it came to success, during his freshman year. He weighed in the neighborhood of 90 pounds and the lightest high school weight class is 106 pounds.
“My freshman year, I didn’t even start,” Latona said. “I struggled that year. It was not a fun year. You’re kind of used to winning. It was really humbling. I didn’t have a very good record, let’s just say that.”
His sophomore year was much different. Latona won the AHSAA 7A state championship at 106 pounds, pinning his opponent in each of the final three rounds in the Super Sectionals and state championship meet. This year, he’s picked up where he left off last season and is wrestling at 120 pounds.
“I love the feeling of knowing you got better and had success and knowing it was your hard work that made that success,” Latona said.
It includes year-round dedication to the sport.
“I’m always on a certain training cycle, but the training cycle is sometimes harder than others,” said Latona, also a standout in the classroom. “Sometimes it’s more relaxed. Right now, it’s hard, we’re in the season. I have a few big tournaments in the summer. Kind of towards the end of summer it will be relaxed, I’m still practicing but it’s not as intense.”
One thing that Latona doesn’t worry about anymore is finding a spot to wrestle in college. He has one more high school season remaining but has already committed to join his older brother, Dominic, a two-time state champ at 120 pounds at Thompson High and currently a sophomore 133-pounder at Virginia Tech. Latona said committing early was important, so he could keep his focus on the hard work.
“You have to do everything right – diet, sleeping, training,” Latona said. “I feel like I’m constantly thinking about the sport, even at school. If I’m not doing my (school) work, I’m thinking about the sport. It’s basically doing everything right, living the life (of a wrestler). It’s like your job.”