GILROY -- They are as close as brothers, says their coach. Two wrestlers who grew up together, practiced together and won together.

But Gilroy's Nikko Villarreal and Paul Fox, this season's Mercury News wrestlers of the year, could not be more different.

When Villarreal capped his high school career this month with a third state championship, the Arizona State-bound star pulled a sign out of his bag and raised it toward where his girlfriend was sitting at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. It was the showman's way of asking her to the prom.

Fox is not nearly as flamboyant. As Gilroy coach Greg Varela tells it, he is more quiet and reserved. A straight-A student bound for Stanford, Fox captured a state championship this season after two runner-up finishes.

"I think in any other world, I don't even know if they'd get along," Varela said. "But they've been together so long, they love each other like brothers."

When they are on the mat, they get nervous for each other like family, too.

With Villarreal wrestling at 145 pounds and Fox at 152, their matches are back-to-back. So after Villarreal pulled out his prom sign while celebrating another state championship, Fox stepped on the mat for his final state-meet match seeking his first.

"I had to do an interview right after, but the whole time I was rushing the interview because I wanted to watch Paul," Villarreal said. "I think I was more nervous about Paul's match than my match."


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Fox's match figured to be challenging. Though the Gilroy wrestler was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state, his opponent, PJ Klee of Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa, was highly decorated and motivated to write his own championship tale. Fox won 3-1.

"It was the best feeling ever," Fox said.

Villarreal got to see the second and third rounds of his teammate's match.

"I kind of went blank," Villarreal said. "I was really happy for Paul."

It was a perfect ending to a perfect season for the Gilroy stars. Villarreal, who became the 18th wrestler to win three California state championships, won all 54 of his matches this season. Fox finished 52-0, noting that in his final match he wore the same head gear his brother, Willie, now a wrestler at Navy, used to win a state title two years earlier.

"That was pretty cool," said Paul Fox, whose brother made the trip to Bakersfield.

On the road to their state championships, Villarreal and Fox also helped Gilroy win its 12th consecutive Central Coast Section team championship.

And as he normally does, Villarreal, who also was last year's Mercury News wrestler of the year, did it with a showman's flair.

"It seems like the bigger the stage, the more excited he gets, the more of a show he wants to put on," Varela said. "Sometimes it might come off that he's a little cocky, but what people don't see is he always tells me, 'Coach, I train 12 months a year. I want to have fun when I wrestle.' What they don't see is how he gives back to the community and all that good stuff."

What they do see: The championships.

All-Mercury News wrestling team
Boys
106 pounds: Jimmie Lopez, Christopher
113 pounds: Alvin Nguyen, Silver Creek
120 pounds: Patrick Palomata, Terra Nova
126 pounds: Christian Racimo, St. Francis
132 pounds: Victor Olmos, Gilroy
138 pounds: David San Miguel, Bellarmine
145 pounds: Nikko Villarreal, Gilroy
152 pounds: Paul Fox, Gilroy
160 pounds: Brandon Lefore, Sobrato
170 pounds: Matt Penyacsek, Gilroy
182 pounds: Mark Penyacsek, Gilroy
195 pounds: Chandler Ramirez, Archbishop Mitty
220 pounds: Graham Grant, Saratoga
285 pounds: Gary Miltenberger, Fremont
Girls
106 pounds: Cadence Lee, Gunn
137 pounds: Jasmine Mendoza, Overfelt
Top finishers from the Mercury News coverage area at the CCS championships and girls state champions from the newspaper's coverage area were selected to the team. The paper's coverage area is predominantly Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.