Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Baton Rouge High wrestling coach Bill Bofinger watches his team work out Wednesday in preparation for the state tournament later this week.

As the last practice of his high school wrestling career neared an end, Micah Roby took his position near the center of the mat and squatted into his stance.

The Baton Rouge High Bulldogs were shadow wrestling, a common drill that involves wrestlers in their stances, moving around the mat and simulating leg attacks and defenses.

“Sweeps, sweeps,” coach Bill Bofinger ordered.

On cue, Roby made a circle, dropping to both knees and simulating a sweep single leg takedown against air. The sprawl — the most basic defense against any leg attack — followed.

In unison, the Bulldogs completed the drills. Three years ago, this sort of drill was near impossible.

“We had a coach that was just trying to keep the sport up,” said senior 160-pounder Jarrett Moss, recalling his freshman season.

“We didn’t know much. My favorite move was the head throw. I think that was all of ours. That’s all we knew.”

Moss and Roby were among 30 Baton Rouge High students who went out for wrestling that freshman season. Five remained at the end.

Practices were virtually optional. Techniques were basic and sometimes an ineffective head throw was the only consistent move. Many practices were filled with just conditioning, no actual wrestling.

Now, three years later under Bofinger’s tutelage, the Bulldogs head to the LHSAA State meet set for Kenner this weekend with five seeded wrestlers in Division I, including Roby (fifth at 126 pounds) and Moss (third at 160 pounds).

“(Bofinger) gave us that drive,” Roby said. “My freshman year, we didn’t even show up to practice.

“Now, it’s like if you miss practice, you come back the next day and you feel like you’ve never been in a wrestling room.”

All of the “original five” seniors said they were oblivious to Bofinger’s sterling résumé. A National Wrestling Hall of Famer, Bofinger started and coached the wrestling program at his alma mater, Lee High for 39 years.

He won 10 Baton Rouge City titles. When Lee closed in 2010, Bofinger went to Tara for three seasons before jumping at the opportunity to take over at Baton Rouge High.

“This is a good group of kids; it’s’ fun to work with them,” said Bofinger, who turned 70 on Tuesday. “When Lee High shut down, I didn’t know where I was going. I jumped on it.

“Honestly, I could do this 10 more years. I’m not going to, but I could,” he joked.

Now tasked with replacing his seven seniors next season, Bofinger has taken to marketing and growing the sport at a school known mostly for track and soccer.

He puts announcements on the bulletin board and intercom and wears his Baton Rouge High wrestling sweatshirt nearly every day to recruit younger students.

His wrestlers help. They talk constantly about their tournaments and practices, often first needing to dispel myths about the sport before getting classmates hooked.

They, too, wear those sweatshirts. Now with a little more pride, thanks to their coach.

“I really wish we would have had him our freshman year,” said Jimmy Do, one of the original five. “It’s a great sport. (I’m) glad I stayed the last four years.”