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Changing his ways
Denairs Miller first goofed around but now a wrestling standout
Craig Miller pic
CHHUN SUN / The Journal Denair High’s Craig Miller pins on of his opponents during a recent match.
DENAIR — Maybe it was just going to be a temporary stint. That would explain why Craig Miller’s attitude about competing for the Denair High wrestling team seemed uncommitted. His coach said “he goofed around.”
First of all, Miller is not a natural wrestler. His passion lies in baseball, where he’s an all-league first baseman. He plays other sports, too. He’s an intimidating offensive/defensive lineman, one who helped lead the Coyotes to the playoffs last season.
But a year ago, when wrestling coach Don Helnore, who moonlights as the school’s linesmen coach, finally convinced the prospect to don a singlet, Miller wasn’t completely for it.
Flash forward to present day.
He’s one of the Coyotes’ most successful wrestlers, and he’s determined to fall into the top two of today’s Trans-Valley Championship at Waterford High, an all-day event that starts at 9 a.m. Miller, the 215-pounder, likes his chances. So does Helnore.
“When he first came in his junior year,” the coach said, “he was feeling his way through and not sure what he could do. He was kind of hesitant. We started telling him, ‘You’re better than that. You gotta get yourself going.’”
The coach knew the type of talent he had in front of him. He taught Miller the proper football stance as a freshman and sophomore, and once saw him slice a few centimeters of the skin on his index finger after he caught it between two face masks. He was tough, but he needed some work at first.
Miller’s attitude changed midway through his junior season. He remembers losing a match at the Engel Tournament at Escalon High. And he was upset. He took a moment to himself and returned to the mat, where he said he beat a guy who was stronger, heavier and better. That, he said, was the turning point.
He went on to place fifth at the Rumble in the Jungle at Pitman High and fourth at the league tournament, enough to take him to the Division V Championships. He only went a couple rounds before his season ended.
He’s looking to have a different outcome this time.
It helps that he has a different appreciation for wrestling. “It’s a really hard sport,” he said. “You have to be in really good shape to wrestle with the best. It’s not like any of the other sports I played and I’ve played a lot of sports. It puts all of them to shame.”
He’s proving it, too. This season, he took fourth at the James Riddle Tournament in Oakdale before he caught a rare skin condition that took him out for a couple weeks. His first match back was at this year’s Rumble, where he placed seventh at the last big tournament before the postseason.
He’s healthy again, and he has aspirations to reach the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament, though he’ll have to get past the league tournament and divisional finals first. He believes he can do it.
It’s not like he hasn’t overcome some adversity so far.

Hilmar takes on WAC wrestlers

Hilmar High coach Dave Exline didn’t make any predications about where his wrestlers will fall in today’s Western Athletic Conference Championships at Livingston High at 9 a.m. He didn’t get the seedings until late Friday night, but he knows one thing: Central Catholic High will dominate.
So Exline said where his team falls depends on where the Raiders will have their wrestlers placed in the 14 weight brackets. The Yellowjackets don’t expect last season’s outcome, when they made school history by sending 14 participants to the Division V Championships, an event that accepts the top four wrestlers from each weight class.
“Central has it locked,” Exline said. “What they do determines who can win.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.