It takes a lot to leave a dynasty that is in its prime.
But a chance to go home and the opportunity to wrestle on the same team as his brother were enough for Dante Rodriguez.
The Kearney senior went from five-time defending Class A state champion Grand Island to his hometown program over the summer.
A two-time state champion and three-time finalist with the Islanders, Rodriguez is now anchoring a Bearcat lineup that will be in the area over the weekend for the Council Bluffs Wrestling Classic at the Mid-America Center.
Rodriguez spent his first three years of high school in the Grand Island program, helping the Islanders to Class A team titles in each of those seasons.
But the prospect of sticking closer to home — the Rodriguez family lives in Kearney — and getting to wrestle with Damon, his brother and a transfer from Kearney Catholic, were enough of a draw to wear blue for his final season.
“It was tough,” Rodriguez said of his decision, “but I really liked the idea of coming back and wrestling with my brother.”
With tournaments often on the same days but in different places, the two had typically been relegated to texts for updates.
“He would go one way and I’d go the other,” Dante said.
In recent years Dante was usually up, out of the house and on his way to Grand Island before Damon would get up in the morning. And he’d get back in time for a “What’s up?” before bed — if he came home at all.
Now the brothers see each other every day as training partners and teammates.
“But they’re more like friends,” Kearney coach Ty Swarm said. “Most brothers say they’re close. These guys really are close. I’ve never seen them argue. They just get along so well.”
Damon sums it up this way: “It’s just happier when he’s there.”
The younger Rodriguez has some state hardware of his own. Damon medaled both seasons at Kearney Catholic in Class C. He jumps into the Kearney lineup at 126, one class before his older brother. In the Bearcats’ season-opening tournament, he beat three state place-winners on his way to the crown.
Damon is already seeing a positive impact from the change.
“He’s making me a lot better,” Damon said of his brother. “He pushes me harder.”
Friday and Saturday’s action in Council Bluffs will provide quite the test for the Bearcats. Teams from five states will take part in the tournament, including some of the top squads in Iowa as well as Grand Island.
Dante has won a pair of national titles this fall, taking home championships in both the Cliff Keen Preseason Nationals and Monster Match Nationals in early November.
Not a bad piece to add to the team, Swarm said.
“You never complain about that quality of wrestler and worker coming into your room,” Swarm said. “He’s just got a different level of intensity. And that’s infectious.
“I don’t think all talented wrestlers have a work ethic, per se. He brings both of those — talent and a work ethic — to the table.”