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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Stevenson 'one of the best ever'

Hernando Today correspondent


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The mark of any parent is the legacy they leave behind for their kids and children's children.

The same can be said for prep athletes.

Jimmy Stevenson was the second of two brothers to graduate from Springstead, in 2000.

As the wrestling state series switches gears in intensity from districts to regionals this weekend, Stevenson's efforts continue to serve as a reminder of the legacy that should be remembered.

Jimmy's older brother, John, had graduated ahead of him in 1998.

Jimmy Stevenson was born in Dunedin to Theresa Iacopelli and Anthony Stevenson.

Shortly after his birth, the family relocated to Saratoga, N.Y. John, Jimmy and his two younger sisters were raised in upstate New York.

At 6 year old, Jimmy yearned for athletics. He played Pop Warner football as a halfback and cornerback, and played shortstop on his Little League teams.

His biggest passion, however, was on the mats.

"My brother did it (wrestling) and I kind of just followed his footsteps," recalls the current 33-year-old Las Vegas resident. "I started wrestling when I was 6. Our (elementary) school had a wrestling program."

Rewinding his first days on the mat, "I remember I lost my first match to kid from Queensbury," said the current 5-foot-6, 170-pound Stevenson. "That kid beat me the first three times we wrestled. On the fourth time, I finally beat him. That match was a turning point; I built up confidence ever since that win."

As an eighth-grader, Stevenson competed for the local high school team.

He recalls finishing third in the district and third in sectionals. In New York back then, only the sectional champions advanced to states.

"I remember that my brother used to whip me on the mats," said Stevenson. "Hands down before high school, he was better than me."

Prior to his freshman year, the Stevensons relocated to Spring Hill.

Across two outstanding seasons (1996-97 and 1997-98), John Stevenson finished a combined 75-5 (.938 percent).

John's highlight package featured back-to-back district titles and two trips to the FHSAA Finals.

As a senior in 1998, John Stevenson wrecked Bunnell-Flagler Palm Coast's Bobby Bossardet via a major decision, 10-0, for his gold medal in Class 5A's 112-pound weight class.

In four mat seasons, competing between 119-125, Jimmy Stevenson made believers of the fans of the Corey Hill/Gilbert Burgos era.

From 1996-2000, under the guidance of future Hall of Famer Bob Levija and assistant coaches Sal Basile and Chris Soto, Stevenson captured 158-of-170 matches (.929 percent).

Only four-time state finalist Cody Ross' career .930 winning percentage is better.

Stevenson etched school records that have set the bar across the Springstead wrestling room.

In his four winters on the mats, Stevenson captured four district titles and four regional titles. His four district titles was tied this last weekend by Springstead's defending state champion Jordan Rivera.

His four regional titles isn't just an Eagle record - it's a county record. No other Hernando County wrestler in 41 winters has tied that mark.

Rivera has a chance to tie Hill's school mark of three regional titles.

Hernando High's Richard Gant (1996-98) and Daniel Pritz (2008-10) are the county's only other three-time regional champions.

Additionally, Stevenson and Ross are the lone Eagles to ever capture the Springstead Invitational four times.

If that wasn't all, Stevenson qualified for the state's biggest stage - the FHSAA Finals - a school- and Hernando County-record four times.

He returned home to Spring Hill as a rare three-time state placer.

There was, however, plenty of heartache in between each trip to The Lakeland Center.

As a freshman, Stevenson was 2-0 and reached the semifinals - meaning all he had to do was finish the tournament to place at least sixth. After dropping his semifinal bout, he was disqualified for arguing a heartbreaking consolation-round loss.

As a sophomore, Stevenson fell in the semis to Clearwater-Countryside's talented Clint Frease. Buoyed by the win, Frease went on to win states by defeating Homestead-South Dade's Patrick Williams, 5-1.

As a junior, Stevenson lost in one of the most controversial matches of Coach Levija's career - the gut-wrenching semifinal loss to Flagler Palm Coast's Bobby Bossardet. That match featured the state's two top-ranked wrestlers.

The mat officials reversed a last-second call giving Bossardet a two-point takedown on the edge of the mat to nip Stevenson by one point.

As fate would have it, Bossardet went on to clip South Dade's Thomas Wiles, 14-12, for the coveted gold medal.

Stevenson ended up placing third as a sophomore and fourth as a junior before reaching the top of the podium in 2000.

Again, it wasn't easy as Stevenson solved Winter Haven's Jacob Bradley of Eagle Lake-Lake Region in double overtime, 4-3.

"I was so happy to win it as a senior," declared Stevenson. "I came so close before it hurt."

In recapping his career, "For all the wins, I can't forget the losses," he said. "Thank goodness the wins outweigh the losses."

In describing his style, "I prided myself on my defense and I was very patient," noted Stevenson. "I preferred wrestling in the center of the mat. Guys we're either going to back away from me or come get me."

Stevenson admits part of his success came as a direct result of the guys in the Springstead wrestling room.

"Steel really sharpens steel," he said. "Our practices even when I was a freshman were intense. There were guys coming back to wrestle in a bloody mess. The room was very competitive. Let's just say with guys like Corey (Hill) and Gilbert (Burgos) pushed everybody."

On his idols, "I looked up to Corey and Gilbert. Corey is actually a very humble guy," pointed out Stevenson. "Trust me you knew exactly who he was in practice. Then he'd go out on the mats and destroy guys.

"I wanted to be just like Gilbert and just like Corey."

After graduation, Stevenson joined another stout SHS performer, Anthony DeCristofaro, at Skyline University in San Bruno, Calif.

The pair competed in the JUCO program for a year before going their separate ways.

These days, Stevenson is divorced, but has three children: 11-year-old Malaya, 8-year-old Tyler and 6-year-old Abrianna.

Stevenson recently began a new job teaching wrestling (ages 17-27) for a Las Vegas tour.

Interestingly, Stevenson's most cherished moment on the mats wasn't at The Lakeland Center, but rather prior to his district tournament final during his senior year at Springstead.

Coach Levija held the microphone and announced to the hushed crowd, "that he watched me grow up from being a young punk and that I was the best-ever wrestler he'd ever coached," recalled Stevenson. "I was so choked up. I don't even remember my finals match. All I know was I put on a takedown clinic - it was ridiculous."

On the significance on donning a Springstead singlet, "To me, it was an honor. We were all very respectful of what it meant," he said. "To wear the singlet, you had to earn it."

To this day, Stevenson retains his Springstead singlet.

Stevenson explained what wrestling meant to him and his teammates.

"It's all about never quitting," he said. "When I'm feeling defeated, I always go back to things Coach Levija taught all of us, especially the meaning of not ever quitting."

On the advice he'd give his son Tyler or anyone else before stepping on the mats for the first time, "You must be willing to work hard. Wrestling isn't just about mental toughness," he detailed. "Dedication and commitment makes champions. You've got to put in the time to reap any rewards."

On guys like Rivera striving to tie or surpass his records, "Records are made to be broken," he said. "No one realized I beat most of Corey's records and he's the guy I looked up to. I had a great run. I'll take it (records) for as long as they last. I'm just glad I left a legacy."

By the numbers: Springstead's Jimmy Stevenson (1996-00)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


1996-97* 119 33 7 .825

1997-98+ 125 41 2 .953

1998-99^ 119 40 2 .952

1999-00$ 125 44 1 .978

TOTALS 158 12 .929

* Denotes state qualifier.

+ Denotes state placer (3rd).

^ Denotes state placer (4th).

$ Denotes state champion.

By the numbers: Springstead's Jimmy Stevenson (1996-00)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

SHS: Most Individual State Tournament Appearances - Career


1. Hill, Corey 4 1994-97

1. Stevenson, James "Jimmy" 4 1997-00

1. Cook, C.J. 4 2005-08

1. Ross, Cody 4 2009-12

SHS: Most Individual District Tournament Titles - Career


1. Hill, Corey 4 1994-97

1. Stevenson, James "Jimmy" 4 1997-00

1. Cook, C.J. 4 2005-08

1. Ross, Cody 4 2009-12

1. Rivera, Jordan 4 2011-14


SHS: Most Individual Regional Tournament Titles - Career


1. Stevenson, James "Jimmy" 4 1997-00

2. Hill, Corey 3 1995-97

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