Having coached Mauricio Franco at Lansdowne HIgh in soccer and wrestling, George Dunn knew the captain in both sports was a team leader.
But when a disappointed Franco placed fifth at the Baltimore County wrestling tournament, the coach saw his individual determination the following week at practice in preparation for the regional tournament.
Franco needed to place in the top four to qualify for the state tournament at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Vikings' senior did way better than that -- finishing first as the second seed.
It is that drive that was behind the choice of Franco as the Arbutus Times Male Athlete of the Year.
“Mauricio showed up that Saturday and he had a great day,” Dunn said. “That was huge, to rebound from counties.”
Dunn didn’t sugarcoat his disappointment at the county tournament when Franco lost to a wrestler from Franklin he had beaten during the regular season and in the consolation semifinals before rallying to take fifth.
“He took that week and really got focused and came back at regionals and had a great day, and he ends up winning the whole thing,” Dunn said. “It was awesome.”
The title got him recognized on the wall of champions in the wrestling room at Lansdowne High.
Franco, a 195-pounder, and teammates Ruseell Seeney Cunningham (182) and Romario Orellana (170) qualified for the state tournament.
Franco knew when the Vikings won their opening dual-meet match over Loch Raven that they were destined for a better season after back-to-back one-win campaigns.
“We are all working as a family to get better every time and we like to work with the younger ones so they can get better,” said Franco, who pinned his opponent in that win over Loch Raven. “We expect a lot of good things from the team this year.”
The Vikings won five dual-meet matches and Franco finished 26-12. He also placed third in the Franklin Tournament .
Although he lost twice at the state meet, Dunn put in perspective. “The first time there you get shellshocked,” he said.
Franco wasn't intimidated, however, when he wrestled North Carroll’s Eddie Merrill, who was second in the state at 170 as a junior and won the state title this year as a senior. Franco took him down for the first two points of the match.
“He didn’t know who he was and he went after him, but it woke him up and Merrill took it to him,” Dunn said.
Franco showed his strength in that match. “He wouldn’t be pushed around by anybody,” Dunn said.
He also heeded his coach’s advice.
“He totally bought into the program, and he bought what I was selling him,” Dunn said.
The Spanish-speaking Franco also overcame a language barrier that existed when he was a sophomore and emerged as a leader.
“He led by example and fought hard,” Dunn said. “The team faced a lot of adversity because of the tougher teams in the league, but he was a leader who kind of pulled the guys together.”
Franco's leadership also was evident on the soccer field where, as goalie, controlling the defense in front of you is vital.
“He played very aggressively going after the ball and he really commanded the field,” said Dunn, whose team went 9-5 in his first season as head coach.
Franco's athleticism got the attention of coaches at Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville, and Franco plans to play soccer there next year.
“He’s a good team guy, leader, strong and mentally tough," Dunn said. "He never missed a practice because of injury and he was there every day pushing everybody and himself.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun