AJ Rodrigues went 50-2 with 36 pins and seven technical falls on the way earning his fourth Carroll County title, his second regional crown and third Class 2A-1A state title, during the 2022-23 wrestling season.
Among Rodrigues’ victories this year was a decision over Mount St. Joseph sophomore Ben Smith, a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Maryland Private schools state champion.
Rodrigues also earned a major decision over senior two-time Class 2A-1A state champion Jake Boog of North Carroll, and technical falls over Howard County, regional champion and Class 2A-1A state runner-up Joe Clark of Oakland Mills and senior Class 2A-1A state runner-up Ethan Sotka of Glenelg.
A team captain with a career record of 150-4 with 95 pins, Rodrigues was the clear choice to be named the 2022-23 Baltimore Banner/VSN Upper Weight Wrestler of the Year.
Rodrigues, who carried a 3.5 grade point average, plans to wrestle in college at the University of Maryland, where he will major in business management.
“I chose UMD for many reasons, one being the campus. The facilities are amazing. I knew if I was going to continue wrestling, it would only be at UMD. The coaches and team sold wrestling to me as soon as I stepped into the wrestling room. The style and vibe of the room is what I am used to,” said Rodrigues, who also starred as a football running back for the Cavaliers.
“I have enjoyed being a dual athlete growing up and have always been successful at it. Going to UMD, where we will compete in the Big 10, I feel I need to fully dedicate my time to just one sport to be competitive. I don’t feel like I have reached my full potential yet with wrestling. Consistently training day in and day out with great partners will get me there.”
On the gridiron, Rodrigues rushed for 1,515 yards and 23 touchdowns. As a junior, Rodrigues ran for 1,200 yards, totaling 1,700 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
“Growing up, whatever sport I was playing at that time, I was fully focused and dialed in. It will be very difficult at first to give up football because I have played it since I was five,” said Rodrigues, who began wrestling as a 5-year-old with the Montgomery County Wolverines under Tony Barnes and Pouria Sadat.
“But I’m sure that once I get into UMD’s wrestling room, my coaches and teammates will help me forget about football real quick. This coming summer and fall when I am at UMD, it’s all gonna be about wrestling. Throughout this whole process, my parents have been very supportive in my search and decision-making. They gave me all the pros and cons for the schools I looked at for football and wrestling and allowed me to make my own choice. I am very happy about my decision to focus on wrestling. There won’t be any regrets for me whatsoever. "
Rodrigues was a catalyst in the Cavaliers’ winning their second straight Class 1A state dual meet title with a 46-30 championship victory over Northern-Garrett County (25-1) following a 64-12 semifinal victory over Harford Tech.
Rodrigues pinned his Harford Tech opponent in 19 seconds and his Northern-Garrett rival in 52 seconds during the sixth and seventh straight victories for the third-ranked Cavaliers (33-1) following a 36-25 loss to top-ranked private school power Mount St. Joseph on Feb. 2.
“This season meant a lot to me because I didn’t know if I was going to wrestle or play football in college,” Rodrigues said. “So with every match I made it one to remember. It didn’t matter if the kids were good or bad, I wrestled every match like it was my last one.”
Rodrigues earned a second-period pin, six first-period falls and two technical falls over his final nine bouts of the season in the Carroll County, Class 2A-1A North Region and Class 2A-1A state tournaments
At counties, Rodrigues had pins in 55 seconds and 2 minutes, 48 seconds followed at regions by those in 31, 15 and 78 seconds, the latter over senior county third-place finisher and regional runner-up Matt Laubach of Sparrows Point.
Rodrigues’ successive wins at states were by pin in 66 seconds, a 22-7 technical fall over state runner-up senior Ethan Sotka of Glenelg, a 16-second fall over sophomore third-place state finisher Canaan Mapp of Parkside and a 20-5 technical fall in the state finals over Howard County and regional champion Joe Clark, a junior from Oakland Mills.
“My coaches really put it into perspective that it was going to be my last four high school matches,” Rodrigues said. “I wanted them to be the best four matches I wrestled yet. I’m happy with the way the state tournament went for me.”
Rodrigues was among a Maryland record eight state finalists and nine place-winners at states, with senior teammate Mike Pizzuto (145) earning his third state title, senior Rylan Moose (182) winning his first after being a runner-up last season, and freshman Jo Jo Gigliotti (120) winning his first.
The Cavaliers had runners-up in senior two-time state champion Gage Owen (138), freshman Grayson Barnhill (106) and sophomores Evan Owen (113) and Manny Rodrigues (195), the latter being AJ’s younger brother. Finishing sixth was AJ’s other sibling, freshman Anthony Rodrigues (152).
“Anthony wrestled in the toughest weight class as a freshman and podiumed while Manny, who didn’t place as a freshman, got second as a sophomore,” AJ Rodrigues said. “I’m very proud of both of my brothers for placing at states. They weren’t only my practice partners but my little brothers, and seeing them succeed makes me very happy and proud of them.”
A.J. made his mark as a freshman, winning his initial state championship in dramatic fashion. Rodrigues won his 126-pound state title, 4-3, over Williamport’s favored Landon Harbaugh, who entered at 49-1. Rodriques had finished third at the previous weekend’s regionals after losing his semifinal bout, 3-1, to Southern-Garrett’s Brogan Kealey.
Harbaugh won the regional title, 12-4, over Kealey, whom Rodrigues overcame, 8-2, in the state semifinals. Rodriguez went 50-2 as a ninth-grader, his other loss coming via 8-3 decision to three-time state champion James Rivera of C. Milton Wright.
Rodrigues secured his second state title, 3-1, over Stephen Decatur’s previously unbeaten two-time champion, Noah Reho, who entered their 160-pound bout at 40-0. Reho had dropped from 170 pounds to face Rodrigues, who broke a 1-1 tie by securing the bout-winning takedown with five seconds left in the match.
Having placed third as a sophomore and second as a junior at the National High School Coaches’ Association nationals, AJ, with Pizzuto, joined Jamar Williams, Joey Thomas and Mike Chenoweth as the Cavaliers’ other three-time state title winners, according to coach Anthony Winfield, a 2005 South Carroll graduate.
“AJ has been a tremendous leader for this program, setting the tone with his work ethic in the practice room and his dominance on the mat,” said Winfield, a 2005 South Carroll graduate who guided the Cavaliers to their second straight county tournament crown. “AJ may be one of the best athletes to ever come through South Carroll as an All-State football player going along with his three state titles, which could have been four if he had not been denied his sophomore year due to Covid.”
AJ’s father, Tony, was a private schools state champion as 125-pound freshman at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Maryland, of Prince George’s County in 1997, and a Class 4A-3A state title winner as a 125-pound sophomore at Seneca Valley High of Montgomery County in 1998.
“I knew that my dad was a pretty good wrestler back in his day. He was part of a team that took first at National Preps one year at Dematha. I thought his accomplishments were amazing, but what it has made me want to do was surpass his accolades. We have an ongoing bet in our house right now of who will win the most state titles between him, my brothers and I,” Rodrigues said.
“I have been trying to get my dad to lace up his shoes and come roll around with me since I got into high school, but he keeps saying he is retired. My dad started this legacy by being a two-time high school state champ. As the oldest brother, I am keeping this legacy going, and due to covid, I felt like I got robbed of my chance to be a four-time state champ. My brothers could actually beat both mine and my dad’s record.”