Kodiak Stephens has earned everything he has, and he’d like it no other way.
At the beginning of the 2019 football season, the Bret Harte High School junior was one of only 17 players on the Bullfrog roster. During a preseason practice, Stephens was asked if he was looking forward to playing every snap and never coming off the field. His answer wasn’t one that most high school student-athletes would give.
“There’s some comfort in knowing that I’ll always be out there, but I’d also like to be able to compete for my spot,” Stephens said back in August 2019.
Stephens was one of the top football players in the Mother Lode League and then ended his wrestling season as one of the top grapplers in California. Yet, even with such a successful junior season, Stephens feels there’s still room to work harder and improve.
“I’m OK with how I did and there’s not much I can do to change it,” Stephens said about his 2019-20 accomplishments. “So, if I’m not OK with it, I’m just going to torture myself. I’m just looking forward to the future and to keep progressing with new goals and finish what I started.”
The success that Stephens had during his junior year was noticed by those who weren’t even involved with wrestling or football. Bret Harte teacher and basketball coach Brian Barnett was a big advocate for Stephens being named as Athlete of the Year.
“His stats in wrestling and football speak for themselves,” Barnett said. “(But it’s also) his great work ethic in and out of class. Kodiak is a good student and classmate to his peers.”
When imagining what a prototypical lineman looks like, Stephens doesn’t fit the mold. He has a body that doesn’t have an ounce of fat and he’s covered in muscles. And even though he could probably play any position on the gridiron, Stephens feels most comfortable on the line taking a pounding and dishing out punishment play after play.
“I like being a lineman and being able to hit everyone,” said Stephens, who was one of the lighter linemen, tipping the scales around 180 pounds. “I don’t think I would enjoy being a receiver because it’s mostly all show. Yeah, I’d be scoring touchdowns and I might get the spotlight, but I think I’d rather be down in the dirt, messing someone up.”
Although Bret Harte didn’t have a successful season in the standings (2-8, 0-5 Mother Lode League), Stephens was one of the most dominating players on the field game after game. He made life difficult for any offensive linemen who tried to slow him down and that was one takeaway Calaveras head football coach Doug Clark had following the annual “Big Game.”
“He’s an athlete, a competitor and any coach would dream to have him on their team,” Clark said after Calaveras’ 42-14 win over the Bullfrogs. “Yeah, he’s that good and we knew that.”
It’s no secret to anyone who plays with or against Stephens that he hates to lose. And after another tough football season, it was hard for Stephens not to be overly disappointed.
“Football is one of the hardest things to do, just because you don’t see a lot of the results that I get in wrestling or the effort that I put in doesn’t pay off how I’d like it to,” said Stephens, who finished the season as a first-team player. “Heading into next year, I just want to keep working and hit people hard. I want to play the game the right way and give my all to every single play, regardless of how much time is left or what the score is.”
Hard work, works
It’s easy to work hard when the eyes are there, but it’s often what is done when nobody is watching that separates a good athlete from a great one. Many people see what Stephens does during practice, both on the football field and on the wrestling mat, but it’s what he does behind the scenes that puts him ahead of the pack.
“I get up really early in the morning and we have some mats in the garage and my brother and I start doing stance and motion drills for about a half an hour,” Stephens said. “And then I’m watching wrestling videos any time I have any downtime to get ideas and to see motion and movement. I’m always physically and mentally preparing.”
All that preparation paid off on the mat. It was a safe bet that if Stephens had a match, he’d have his hand raised in victory. Stephens, who wrestled at 182 pounds, placed first at the Mother Lode League Tournament, went 4-0 at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Divisionals (which included picking up a 12-second pin) became the first Bullfrog since 1976 to place first at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet and then finished fourth overall at the CIF State Championship.
Heading into the state championship, it’s safe to say that Stephens wasn’t challenged the way he’d like to have been. Even after rolling through everyone put in front of him, Stephens felt completely ready to compete on the big stage.
“I was at one of my greatest points heading into the state tournament,” Stephens said. “I knew that I wasn’t going to have a super hard time going through masters and subs, but heading into state, it was in my head that this was my time and it’s now or never.”
At the state championship, Stephens went 6-2 with both of his losses being against Rancho Bernado’s Javen Jovero. Stephens lost to Jovero 2-1 in an ultimate tiebreaker and then fell 3-2 with third place on the line. And knowing that there are three wrestlers who placed ahead of him, Stephens is using that as motivation heading into his senior season.
“I want to beat those three or two guys who are left,” he said. “I see them at these big tournaments that I go to and I know they are out there training, so they are always on my mind. In my head, I’m not so much beating everyone in the state, as I want to beat the top few elite guys.”
As much as Stephens enjoyed all his individual success, perhaps his proudest moment of the season was finally being able to have a home dual. In January, Bret Harte hosted Sonora for its first home dual in over five years. When he was a freshman, Stephens was one of only a handful of Bullfrog wrestlers. Now, two years later, the program has grown into one that has enough bodies to fill out a card.
“That was the most exciting thing,” Stephens said about finally having enough wrestlers to make up a full team. “Coming off of football with that rough crowd and that rough time and how hard it was and then coming into the wrestling room and seeing 15 people and going to dual meets and going to tournaments and having a team and seeing them succeed and watching my brother wrestle was just really great. That was probably the best wrestling season I’ve ever had.”
With one year left to play football and wrestle at Bret Harte, Stephens has no intention of slowing down. He hopes to lead the football team to better days. And as far as what he looks to accomplish on the mat, the list isn’t very long.
“I’m going to be a state champion,” Stephens said. “That’s the goal.”