Rashaad Liggins has a way of sneaking up and surprising people.
He did it in the final few games of the football season, and he’s doing it now as the only member of the Durango High School wrestling team to qualify for the state tournament.
“He knew what he had to do and did it; that’s kind of been his thing all year long,” DHS head coach Leo Garand said of his senior wrestler. “He’ll look at the clock and he knows the score, and coming down the stretch he knows what he needs to do, and he’s finished big quite a few times this year. He knows when he needs the points and comes up with them.”
At the Class 4A Region 1 wrestling tournament last weekend in Pueblo, Liggins went 4-1 to earn third place in the 182-pound bracket and a spot at the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A state championships this Thursday through Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
At the regional meet, Liggins dropped a 5-2 decision in his first match, a quarterfinal match against Pueblo South’s Jake Gallina, who went on to place second.
On the backside of the bracket, Liggins pinned Palmer Ridge’s Levan Pipia 17 seconds into the second round, received a win via forfeit against Pueblo County’s James Sturtevant, then scored a 6-5 decision against Alex Mays of Air Academy to land in the third-place match.
At regionals, the top four placers qualify for state, but a loss in the third-place match would have required Liggins to keep wrestling to determine a true fourth-place wrestler. But there was no need, as Liggins scored a 12-10 decision against Pueblo West’s Taner Henderson.
“I was ecstatic,” Liggins said of placing third and qualifying for state. “I couldn’t believe that after only two years wrestling, I was going to state. I thought that was something for 12-year wrestlers or something. I was really excited.”
Liggins’ path to the Pepsi Center began during his junior year when he was at Farmington High School and playing for the Scorpions’ football team. Isaiah Frank, a senior on the football and wrestling teams at FHS, told Liggins he should try wrestling after the football season was finished, and Liggins gave a simple answer.
“He said, ‘You should wrestle.’ And I said, ‘OK,’” Liggins said.
When Liggins moved to Durango for his senior year, he kept with wrestling and worked to tune his size and athleticism so he could challenge whoever stood across from him on the mat.
“He had great athleticism and strength coming in, it was just developing a couple of things,” Garand said. “We knew he was really green and we wanted to develop a couple of things from there, and it’s really worked.”
Liggins’ development happened quickly, but not overnight.
He was on the losing side more often than he had his hand raised through the first part of the season as he worked his way into better shape to compete for three rounds. Near midseason, Liggins opted to make a change.
“When he was in good condition, he made the decision to drop down from 195 to 182,” Garand said. “He thought he could be more effective there, and since he got down to 182, I think he’s 8-2 at that weight.”
The hard work to get his skillset to a point where he can compete with the best and moving to a more competitive weight has moved Liggins’ overall record to 11-9 this season.
In qualifying for state, Liggins is in a position he didn’t expect, and the only pressure on him to perform well is what he has put on himself.
“Our other seniors definitely deserve it a lot, so for me to go and them not to go, I feel like I have to represent myself and them,” he said. “I’ve been putting a lot of work in, but they’ve been putting in work for four years, and some even more, to get to state. Since they can’t go, I feel like I have to represent the seniors even more.”
Liggins will open the first round of the 182-pound bracket against Widefield’s John Underwood (26-6) on Thursday at the Pepsi Center.
“He’s got a good spot in the bracket,” Garand said.
“The match will be against a kid from Widefield we haven’t seen, but that’s not a big deal because we didn’t see anybody from regionals before and he caught a number of them by surprise.”