SARASOTA — Tobias Baker isn’t satisfied unless he’s giving it his all every time he steps onto the mat.
The Sarasota High junior is proud to be a wrestler, but he knows that carries an additional weight.
Baker not only strives to be a role model for his teammates, but he also understands the importance of making sure he’s physically and mentally prepared for each and every match.
This season, those two responsibilities have taken on a whole new meaning.
Prior to the start of the season, Baker and his teammate and friend, Austin Hobson, a senior, made the decision that Baker would move up a weight class, so that the two could wrestle together one final time.
Baker, who went 34-6 last season at 220 pounds, moved up to heavyweight at the start of the season.
Now, in his first season as a heavyweight wrestler, Baker, who has had to adjust to competing against wrestlers who have 40 to 50 pounds on him, is off to an impressive start so far this season with a perfect 9-0 record. He also has seven pins thus far.
Most recently, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, Baker won the Cougar Invitational in Plant City, defeating the No. 1 and No. 2 seed wrestlers en route to becoming the first Sarasota High wrestler to win the tournament.
“It’s always nice to know your faster than your opponents,” Baker says. “I’m faster, but just as strong. That’s definitely a big advantage for me.”
Baker has spent the season training with first-year head coach Cezar Sharbono, which he says has helped him.
“He’s taught me technique and always (pushes) me to do my best,” Baker says. “That’s been a big plus on my side. His skill level is definitely a lot higher than other skill levels, so I think that puts me over the bar.”
Baker began wrestling when he was in eighth grade after his father died. At the time, his mother wanted her son to find an outlet, and Baker gravitated toward wrestling.
Baker’s older brother picked up the sport and he eventually decided to follow suit.
“Out of all of the sports, wrestling is the hardest and it makes you the toughest,” says Baker, who also plays football and is on the weightlifting team. “It’s man versus man. It’s kind of a challenge.
“It’s male domination,” Baker says. “There are no teammates out there with you, so you can’t blame anyone else. There’s no greater feeling than knowing you’re better than someone else.”
Baker went 12-1 in his first middle-school season. That summer, Baker moved to Sarasota and joined the Sailors wrestling team as a freshman. Since then, Baker has developed into one of the team’s most dedicated and talented wrestlers.
Baker made the varsity squad as a sophomore, winning his first varsity tournament. During the summer, Baker competed in the Disney Duals in which he went 12-2 and was named an All-American and finished as the national runner-up.
He also got the opportunity to wrestle with several Penn State University wrestlers during a summer camp, which has allowed him to see what it’s like to compete at the collegiate level.
“He has had the experience of seeing what college wrestling is all about,” Sharbono says. “When you face those kinds of kids, it makes the fierce competition that much easier.”
This season, Baker has his sights set on winning district and regional titles and advancing to the state tournament — a feat he fell short of last season.
“That’s been a goal of mine since I started wrestling,” Baker says. “I’m always working to push myself to the limits. To be a state champion, you need a lot of mental toughness. Making it isn’t going to be easy at all.”
In addition, Baker has aspirations of being one of the Sailors’ team captains this year.
“I definitely want to be a captain,” Baker says. “My dad was a captain when he played sports and he always told me to (strive) to be a captain. It feels great to know people look up to you and can trust you to be a role model.”
Eventually, Baker would like to follow in his head coach’s footsteps and wrestle in college before, one day, coming back to Sarasota to coach. Baker hopes to visit the Citadel this summer, which is the most southern Division I college with a wrestling program in the United States.
“I’m just mean and that’s what they’re looking for,” Baker says. “It’s definitely something I want to do.”
“Toby is here for the right reasons,” Sharbono says. “He knows what it takes to go forth to the next level. You can’t just be a great wrestler. You have to be a well-rounded kid, which he is.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
Replacing a legend
After serving as an assistant coach at Sarasota High last season, Bayshore High alum Cezar Sharbono was named the Sailors’ new head wrestling coach earlier this year.
SARASOTA — Cezar Sharbono has big shoes to fill.
After former Sarasota High wrestling coach Ron Jones, who coached the Sailors for 29 years, accepted a new position at the Sarasota Military Academy, Sharbono assumed the reins.
“I’m replacing a legend,” Sharbono says. “I’m just trying to do the right things. I love Coach (Ron) Jones. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known, but I need do things my way not his way.”
Sharbono wrestled at Bayshore High before moving on to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he was a two-time NCAA qualifier during his junior and senior seasons.
Sharbono began his coaching career four years ago as an assistant at Southeast High, where he also taught history.
The following year, Sharbono switched over to Palmetto where he also served as an assistant coach. Last year, Sharbono assumed a part-time position at Manatee School for the Arts.
At that time, Sharbono began assisting Jones at Sarasota. Sharbono had trained with Jones while he wrestled at Bayshore. After Jones’ position was eliminated at Sarasota and he switched over to SMA, Sharbono was approached about the head coaching vacancy.
Sharbono gladly accepted the position earlier this year, even though a history teaching position wasn’t available. He was given the opportunity to teach ESE science, and after taking the necessary certification tests, he accepted the full-time position.
“This is what I’ve always wanted,” Sharbono says. “This is year one of the post coach Jones era.”