There may not be a more eager wrestler in the state than North Medford senior Kody Bonham.

There may not be a more eager wrestler in the state than North Medford senior Kody Bonham.

He is, after all, regarded by Black Tornado coach Nolan Harris as "one of the most improved wrestlers in the state" over the last two seasons.

Bonham will be out to showcase his development — and prove that an 0-2 showing at state last year was simply an aberration — when the Class 6A state tournament begins today in Portland.

"I can't wait," says Bonham, one of 11 North Medford wrestlers competing. "School has been so slow this week, and all I can think about is that first round."

And burying some painful memories.

Bonham lost 12-8 and then 8-3 in a disappointing state debut last season.

"There are thousands of people, a bunch of mats, and I was just intimidated for some reason," Bonham says. "But it helped a lot in setting my goals higher. It kind of drove me."

That's been obvious this season.

The seventh-ranked 189-pounder in Class 6A finished the season with a 30-7 record, including a district title and a 10-0 mark against Southwest Conference opponents.

His resumé includes a strong showing at the Reno Tournament of Champions — billed as one of the top tournaments in the West. He defeated fifth-seeded Marcus Ortega of Temecula Valley (Calif.) 5-0 before later defaulting with a back injury.

Bonham reached the 189 finals at the Rogue Valley Championships, eventually losing to Bo Younker of South Umpqua, a Class 4A state runner-up last season.

He earned a 10-5 decision over Roseburg's Joe Hennricks for the SWC title.

"This season's been pretty sweet," Bonham says. "We put in a lot of hard work over the summer, and we are getting out what we put in.

"I go out more expecting to win this year, not just wanting to. Intimidation is not a thing this year."

Bonham directly attributes his steady improvement to his teammates. The Black Tornado has a string of skilled wrestlers in the middle of its lineup. Ryan Mahoney (145), Cory Haggans (152), Mark Dickison (171) and Bonham all captured district titles.

Ammon Ebert (135) and Kade Peden (160) were second.

"There are a lot of athletic kids in those middle weights," Bonham says. "When I see them winning, I want to keep it going. I love having that three, four, five kids in a row winning."

Bonham and Dickison are typically live wrestling practice partners while Bonham and Peden are drill partners.

"Who you wrestle with every day determines how tough you are," Harris says. "They have good partners every day."

Bonham and Peden are North Medford's only seniors headed to state, and they've developed a tight friendship.

"The high school journey for us has been hand-in-hand going together," says Peden, North Medford's only state-placer last season when he took fourth at 171.

They became a workout tandem their sophomore year and have grown closer together through football and wrestling — so close that they now feel responsible for and prideful of each other's success.

"Every time I've improved, Kody's improved," Peden says. "Last year when I was placing, and he wasn't, it was heartbreaking for me because I knew he was a placer. This year whenever he's on the mat, I'm on the mat with him. Seeing him have success is a very proud feeling because he's my best friend, my workout partner and the guy who pushes me. It's extreme pride."

Often they push each other a little too much, Peden admits.

"There are usually a couple minutes after practice we don't talk to each other," Peden says. "We've abused each other. There are times during practice that one of us is like, 'Leave me alone' because we push each other so hard. It happens almost every day."

Yet, each says that partnership has dramatically benefited both of them.

Peden labels Bonham's improvement the last two seasons as "monumental."

"Kids that pinned him last year, he's beaten by six, seven points now," Peden says.

Bonham started in the sport relatively late as a seventh grader. He's compensated for that with an ability to quickly learn and utilize various techniques.

"He's really smart, and that transfers to wrestling," says Harris, who also likens Bonham's body frame to that of four-time NCAA champion Cael Sanderson. "He's somewhat of a sponge and has athletic ability to perfect it as well. He's a blue-collar worker, and the sport rewards hard work. I appreciate that. Anything I've asked of him, he's done. If I need him at a fundraiser for 12 hours, he's there all 12 hours."

Bonham is also a tireless worker in the classroom, carrying a 3.67 GPA. He was recently named student of the month at North Medford and is seeking to become the first from his immediate family to attend college.

He's garnered interest for wrestling from Brown University and for football from Lewis & Clark College.

A collegiate wrestling offer may hinge on his performance this weekend.

Bonham received a fairly favorable draw. He opens today against Grant sophomore Charlie Reed-Dustin, and the first seeded opponent he could potentially face would be in the quarterfinals against No. 2 Michael Doman of Canby.

Redmond senior Taylor Johnson, the state runner-up last year, is on the other half of the bracket.

"The field is wide open," Harris said. "He (Bonham) is just as equipped as anyone else to have success.

"He knows now what it (the state tournament) looks like, what it sounds like. He's definitely better focused now."

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