Upon entering South Brunswick High School four years ago, senior Ali Yildiz possessed an ability that trumped his confidence.
“I’m not sure that he had the confidence to step into a varsity lineup, although we had the confidence that he could excel,” South Brunswick head coach Bobby Januska said. “I’m not sure he had that same (belief) at that particular time.”
The coaching staff felt Yildiz, as a freshman, could have cracked a starting lineup that featured gifted upper weights including Brendan Vercammen and Jeff Goldhagen.
“We were pretty stacked up and down the lineup,” Januska, who was an assistant at the time, said of Yildiz.
“But he had opportunities to get in. I don’t know if he bought into the entire system yet. He wasn’t the best kid in the room at that point, coming from middle school where he was (a champion) and now he had some kids who were doing some work on him in our own room.”
Januska and then head coach Joe Dougherty saw tremendous potential in Yildiz with the latter stating last season his rising star could win a state title.
Yildiz, owner of a 91-11 career mark including an unblemished 32-0 record at 182 pounds this season, begins his journey for an individual championship in Saturday’s District 20 Tournament at Churchill Middle School in East Brunswick.
The senior qualified for the state tournament a year ago. He won his first bout but dropped the next two. Acclimating himself to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City prepared him well for a return trip next month.
Yildiz is favored to win district and region titles for the Vikings, who are in the mix to place among the top four in the 11-team field at this weekend’s tournament.
Defending champion Old Bridge is expected to contend for the team title along with Monroe and host East Brunswick.
The district features 25 incumbent region qualifiers, the most notable being East Brunswick 160-pounder Jonathan Schleifer, who is favored to win a state title. He and Yildiz drill together at CJA.
“He’s got a little bit of funk when he needs it,” Januska said of Yildiz’s style, “but mostly he’s solid on his feet and he’s a hammer on top.
“He’s instilled a couple things and worked on some things over the summer that I think he’s ready to surprise some people with. He’s relentless. I believe he can turn anybody. He’s deceptively strong.
“He’s got the heart of a lion and the strength of a gorilla.”