The Phoenix High School wrestling coaches recognized the potential nearly from the start of Noah Berman's wrestling career.

The Phoenix High School wrestling coaches recognized the potential nearly from the start of Noah Berman's wrestling career.

But potential doesn't always equate to success.

"When I first saw him down in middle school wrestling, I thought, 'Boy, here we go. This guy is going to be something special for us,'" says legendary Phoenix coach Harry Mondale, who retired after last season. "We recognized that he had a lot of those tangibles quite a while ago. But just having those tangibles isn't saying it's going to happen. It takes a little something in between."

No question, things are happening for Berman this year. After winning a state title last year, the senior is 36-1 this season and the state's top-ranked Class 4A wrestler in the 171-pound weight class.

Berman captured titles at the NorCal Tournament in Anderson, Calif., at the Rogue Valley Championships at North Medford and twice won individual titles in tournaments Phoenix hosted.

But times haven't always been so pleasant, and it was a conscious decision by Berman to change his ways that ultimately guided the 17-year-old to new heights.

"There was a time we didn't know what the outcome was going to be," says first-year Phoenix coach John Farmer, who succeeded Mondale. "You see all the potential, but one bad mistake could have ruined it for him. He was there a couple times. It could have been a whole different story and someone going, 'Noah who?'"

Berman entered high school having captured the first state wrestling championship at Talent Middle School as an eighth grader, but his freshman and sophomore years were a struggle.

There were discipline problems at school and a lack of direction, Farmer says.

"Noah had a tendency to create some of his own misery," Farmer says.

Says Mondale: "To get him to come to summer workouts wasn't an easy chore. At this point, Noah could be a lot further ahead than he is."

The boiling point came near the end of Berman's sophomore season with Phoenix. He qualified for the state tournament but was .4 pounds over during the initial weigh-ins and was disqualified.

"I let down everybody, my parents and my coaches," Berman says.

He was placed under probation by Mondale and Farmer and presented with an expectation — to prove that he was serious about continuing to wrestle for Phoenix.

"He didn't blink," Farmer says. "He just did what needed to get done. From then on, there's never been a problem. He was able to realize, with the help of his family, that this was a one-time shot in his life."

From that point, Berman's record is around 74-5, his only loss this year coming at the Dec. 15 Coast Classic to Class 6A Newberg's Alec Ortiz, a nationally ranked wrestler in a match Berman said he, "pretty much bombed." Berman lost 6-3.

Despite that loss, he appears ready to claim his second consecutive state title this season at 171.

"I think he was just psyched out," Noah's dad Seth Berman says of his match with Ortiz. "I'm almost positive if they wrestled again, (Noah) could beat him. He's really turned it up a notch. He's just dominating guys."

In the Rogue Valley Championships on Dec. 29, Berman pinned his way to the title and he's defeated two of the state's top 10 189-pound Class 4A wrestlers.

"After you win state, you realize if you want to be the best, you have to focus on every aspect of your life," says Berman, who was 47-24 in his first two seasons at Phoenix. "I wasn't very focused (my first two years), and I lost a lot of matches."

Farmer says Berman has improved "five-times over" since winning the state title and is garnering interest from multiple colleges.

Berman has always possessed great strength — he started lifting with his father in eighth grade and was close to lifting three times his body weight last year — but he's combined that with better foot work and flexibility.

"He's kind of figured out how to make his body style work to the best of his advantage," Farmer says. "Most people, after they've won a state title, think they are the top dog and don't have to work hard. Noah wanted to get better."

Berman needs little help finding motivation these days.

Despite weighing close to 170 pounds, Berman has wrestled up to 189 multiple times this season, and Farmer says he has "no qualms about wrestling him against 215-pounders" when the opportunity to wrestle quality opponents arises.

Berman has twice taken down Henley's Chris Henry, the state's sixth-ranked 189-pounder, and Illinois Valley's Lance Tausaga, the seventh-ranked 189-pounder.

And possessing the top-ranking in the state in his own weight division has been a heavy burden to bear, Berman said, but it also keeps him constantly driven.

"The motivation thing isn't tough," Berman says. "After you win state, everybody out there wants to beat you."

So far, that hasn't happened very often.

"I think it's starting to come together for that young man," Mondale says. "He could end up being one of our elite people on the college level."

Reach sports reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com