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Just an all-around student/athlete

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Once you’ve wrestled, everything else is easy. Dan Gable, 1972 Summer U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winner in wrestling.

A.J. (the first initial stands for Alias and is pronounced A li’ as,  not A’ lee as, and the second initial is for James) Starkovich has a combination of unusual names that puts him slightly above average. He’s even better known, especially at Miyamura High School as a fun-loving, hard-working, and intelligent student and athlete. Just the last two qualities are hard to find anymore - that elusive student/athlete bit - especially at the level where A.J. is happiest in competing.

In his final year of high school, the young Starkovich has lived a full schedule of athletics – 11 years in wrestling, and nine years each in football and track. He made brief forays into other sports too, but always came back to the top three on his list.

“I’ve always loved the contact of football and wrestling,” A.J. said in a phone interview on Jan. 19. “and I’ve always been a fast runner, so that made my choices easier.”

He has had a spectacular year, starting with football where he was named to First Team All State despite the Patriot team not being very successful. Now in wrestling, Startkovich is hoping for the best finish in his favorite sport, a state championship, and he is well on the way with a 25-1 record at 152 pounds, some 23 pounds lighter than his football weight as a running back.

At practice, A.J. is the obvious leader. Not only is he outfront on every jog around the small practice room, but his dad, coach Ken Starkovich, uses him to help demonstrate the different tactics and strategies he teaches to the rest of the team.

“For me, it’s nice to be around these other athletes,” said A.J. “I enjoy working with them and helping where I can.”

On the wrestling team, the athletes he works with are: fellow senior Jeremiah Salaz; juniors Max Aycock, Aaron Baldonado, Dylan Chavez, Gabe Duckett, Christian Coffey, Josh Ashley and Cooper Jim; sophomores Benny Baca, Clayton Tom, and Cordell Brown; and eighth-grader Drake Guerrero. The are another 14 on the MaxPreps roster, but not all participated in last week’s Joe Vivian Invitational, one of the three largest meets in New Mexico. Thirty-two teams took part in the two-day event.

A.J. is not the kind to look too far forward in his life; he sets his goals realistically, in order. His focus for now is on the next couple of meets leading up to the state-qualifying District and then on to State. His only loss this season has been to a 6A competitor who was a state placer three years in a row. The 5A State Championship is not guaranteed to him, of course. Only determination and work will earn that coveted title.

Starkovich will have only a short break after State, time enough perhaps to visit his older sister Tiara and her two kids, maybe spend a little time with his mom, Yvetter Martinez, or his two younger siblings, Kylin, 9, and Charlie, 2. And then it will be onto the track for 100m and 400m sprints and preparation for that season.

Graduation follows right on the heels of Track and Field, Starkovich will turn 18 in July and be in college probably by August. His choice for a Poly Sci degree has not yet been confirmed as several schools want to use his athletic ability as well as his 3.82 GPA to their benefit, including one in Ontario, Canada. Some want him just for wrestling, others for football too, or track, but Starkovich will be looking for the one that provides a smooth avenue to law school, and beyond. Not necessarily easier because it is not his way.

Dan Gable, mentioned at the start of this article, provided a good closing as well, one that might have personally been about A.J. Starkovich: “I’m a big believer in starting with high standards and raising them. We make progress only when we push ourselves to the highest level. If we don’t progress, we backslide into bad habits, laziness and poor attitude.”

Progress is the Starkovich way.

By Tom Hartsock

Sun Correspondent