For Lely High 220-pounder Claudel Alix, the road to the Class 2A state wrestling tournament starts Saturday at Naples High in the District 12 championships.
After a regular season in which he often wrestled above his weight class, Alix has lost just two matches and, incredibly, has not allowed a takedown to be scored against him.
"This is my senior year," Alix said. "This is my last opportunity."
And so it is with many area wrestlers who will compete this weekend in their various classes' district tournaments.
Golden Gate and Immokalee will travel to Southwest Florida Christian for the 1A-12 tournament Friday. Gulf Coast will be at North Port for the 3A-8 championships on Saturday.
All will have a tough journey to the state tournament in Lakeland on Feb. 15-16, but none tougher than those hoping to finish among the top four and emerge from 2A-12.
With 12 schools — including Palmetto Ridge, Barron Collier, Estero, South Fort Myers, the Golden Eagles and Lely — 2A-12 is the largest district in the state among all three classes. Last year, the district had the most state placers among all districts and classes.
The field is loaded once again this year.
"If you can get out of this district, you're setting yourself up really well," said Trojans assistant coach Dan Tria. "This is just tough."
Tough is what Alix has been all season. Besides winning a county championship three weeks ago, Alix also won his weight class at the Buzz Hill Invitational, one of the most competitive tournaments in the state this year.
"We just want him to approach each match one at a time, one period at a time," Lely coach Mark Modica said. "He has to focus on what he does well and eliminate mistakes.
"Claudel has had a great run so far. What matters now is what he does from here on out. Claudel is very aware of that."
Last week at the Bidwell Invitational at Lemon Bay, Alix lost in the 220-pound division for the first time this season, dropping a decision to Venice's Thomas Carello.
"I wasn't ready for that match," Alix said. "I don't know what happened to me out there. But I'm mentally and physically prepared for districts. I want to thank my coaches and teammates for helping me this week in practice."
Alix, a defensive lineman on the Trojans' football team, initially began wrestling as a freshman, but left the sport. He returned his junior year after being encouraged by Modica.
"I wasn't into it," Alix said. "(Modica) told me I could become a champion. I believed him and here I am now."
Alix qualified for states last year, winning one match and losing two in Lakeland.
Tria and Lely assistant coach Thom Popoli worked tirelessly with Alix, helping him apply moves and learn from his mistakes. Popoli often gives Alix a ride home after practice, talking wrestling and future plans along the way.
Regardless of what happens this postseason, Alix sees a military life in his future. Though he has yet to choose a college, Alix plans on joining ROTC then moving on to officer's training school and becoming an MP.
"He's going to go into the military and defend my scared butt," said Popoli, also the owner of Foxboro Tavern in East Naples. "Claudel is fearless. He's a bright kid. I am proud of the young man he is becoming.
"If he can get out of our district and region, he has a good chance of winning state. Our district is impossible."