Wesley Free

Cleburne's Wesley Free will try to defend his regional champion title at Saturday's Region II Division I powerlifting meet in Burleson.

The Cleburne Yellow Jackets will have three athletes in action at Saturday’s Region II Division I powerlifting meet at Burleson High School as Trenton Jonsson, Wesley Free, and Josh Rangel will make a bid at qualifying for state.

Like the Lady Jackets’ powerlifting team, Cleburne’s boys powerlifting team doubled its numbers from a year ago.

“Last year, we had a lot of third-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishes as a team,” Cleburne Coach Troy Culwell said. “This year, we were second or third every single meet. We had 54 boys came out and I had 38 different lifters participate in meets. We had a varsity, JV and actually a true freshman team. So the program literally doubled from what it was last year.

“The goal was to increase our amount of people getting qualified to regionals, which we did. With 38 guys, we’re one of the biggest programs in the county right there with Burleson, competing with them in every tournament. Having a lot of freshmen, we have a lot of guys wanting to come back next year so we’ll probably increase our numbers more.”

Cleburne actually had five student-athletes qualify for the regional meet but two of the qualifiers will not participate in the meet due to injury.

A year ago, Free not only qualified for state, but he was the regional champ in the 181-pound weight class. Free went on to finish 13th overall in state.

Culwell said they’re aiming for Free to defend his regional championship and then improve upon his 13th-place finish at state.

“He was the regional champion last year and that’s the plan again this year,” Culwell said. “We’ll be tracking the numbers of the guys right behind him because we definitely want to make sure Wes repeats as regional champ. He’s been leading his weight class all year long. Going into regionals, we’re looking into him breaking the regional bench press record in his division.

“I’ll have my wife, Coach [Jason] Payne, and his wife there all helping me track where he needs to be. Wes is very confident. His numbers are better than last year by about 100 pounds. We’ve got a plan going in to make sure he makes his state numbers plus whatever he needs to win.”

Entering Saturday’s regional meet, Free has lifts of 550 pounds in the squat, 365 pounds in the bench press, and 460 pounds in the dead lift for a total of 1,375 pounds.

Jonsson qualified for powerlifting in his first year with the program, representing the Jackets in the 148-pound class, which was a focus for Culwell entering the season.

“He’s a skinnier guy, lifting in the 148-pound weight class,” Culwell said. “He was in football last year and he kept getting stronger and stronger. One of the things we knew last year was we needed some of the skinnier guys to compete for the team. He’s been in the top 20 in regionals throughout the year. He fought and fought and worked hard all season to get into the top 12 like he did.”

Jonsson’s top lifts this year are 410 pounds in the squat, 215 pounds in the bench press, and 375 pounds in the dead lift for a total of 1,000 pounds.

And competing in the super heavyweight division, Rangel’s totals in practice recently should qualify him for state with a good showing Saturday.

“He’s only a sophomore so I don’t even think we’ve touched how strong this kid is yet,” Culwell said. “Right now he’s doing a 665 squat and a 390, probably 400, bench. We’re going into regionals looking at his state number, which is 1,600 and right now his best lift is 1,540. He’s young, it’s incredible what he can lift. 

“We’re working on his dead lift, but I think we’ve put on about 125 pounds since the beginning of the year where he is on the dead lift right now. For the next couple years, I expect to see big huge numbers coming from him. These kids see how much he lifts in the weight room. He’s throwing 600 around like it’s nothing on squat each day. It inspires some of the others and they want to try to keep up with him.”

Rangel’s best numbers in competition this year are 650 pounds in the squat, 370 pounds in the bench, and 515 pounds in the dead lift for a total of 1,535 pounds.

Culwell said what stands out to him collectively about Yellow Jacket powerlifting this season, and last, is how they’ve stepped up to the challenge from Cleburne Head Football Coach Casey Walraven about making an effort to get in the weight room and get stronger.

“The biggest thing is the kids have bought into Coach Walraven’s philosophy,” Culwell said. “He challenges the kids all the time. This is one of the challenges is how strong can you get? It makes it easy for me and these kids want to show him they can step up to the challenge.”

The regional meet is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Burleson High School’s gym.

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