To be a champion, one has to beat the top contenders.

To be a champion, one has to beat the top contenders.

That's the philosophy Worthington Kilbourne High School senior James Ford will take into the Division I state wrestling tournament, which begins Thursday, March 12, and runs through Saturday, March 14, at Ohio State.

Ford won the 220-pound title in the district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby and enters state with a 39-3 record. He opens against Xenia's Cody Smith (32-7) and could face Lakewood St. Edward's Parker Knapp (38-3) in the second round and Cincinnati St. Xavier's Jonathan Jones (37-0) in a semifinal.

Last season at state, Knapp placed sixth in the same weight class and Jones placed fourth at 195.

"The way I see it, I was going to have to wrestle them sooner or later," Ford said. "I've wrestled them before and I'm confident that I can beat them both if I go out there and do my best."

Ford went 1-2 at state last season at 220 when he competed for Thomas Worthington.

"James beat Knapp in the semis at (the Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament on Dec. 13) and lost to Jones in our first tournament of the season (the Olentangy Invitational on Dec. 6)," coach Brett Shaut said. "He's wrestled on some big stages outside of Ohio and maybe competing on that level will give him an advantage at state.

"James also had a tough draw at district, as three of the four state qualifiers came from his side of the bracket, so he's had to step up and be focused and prepared already before getting to state."

Ford went 4-0 at district with two pins. He pinned Olentangy's Connor Slade in 1 minute, 17 seconds in the championship match.

Also qualifying for state was junior Charlie Osborn, who went 3-2 and placed fourth at 120 and enters state with a 32-10 record. He faces the defending state champion, Alex Mackall of Walsh Jesuit, in the opening round.

Also competing at district was junior Andrew Cook, who went 0-2 at 152 to finish 23-13.

The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.

Kilbourne scored 41 points at district to finish 15th behind champion Central Crossing (171.5) as 37 teams scored.

Jones representingCardinals at state

Only one of Thomas' four district competitors advanced to state.

A.J. Jones, a junior, was district runner-up at 195 and will face Lorain's Isaiah Margheim (46-5) in his opening match at state. Jones went 3-1 at district, losing to Central Crossing's Robbie Fusner 3-2 in the final, and is 40-3 on the season.

Jones is making his first state appearance. He was a district qualifier last season at 182.

"I'm happy with the way I've been wrestling, but I'm upset about losing in the final," Jones said. "I really pumped for state. I want to place. I know I'm going to be anxious, but I want to stay calm. I've dreamed about winning state. I'm good enough for that if I wrestle the way I know I can."

Also competing at district were senior Ben Hooff (152) and juniors Martice Johnson (120) and Tyler Norris (126).

Hooff, a state qualifier last season at 145, went 2-2 to finish 18-5. He suffered a shoulder injury in early January and did not return until the sectional Feb. 28 at Upper Arlington.

"Ben is a real tough kid," coach Brad Todd said. "He has torn ligaments and needs Tommy John surgery now. He came back and won a sectional championship. (At district), he lost his (third-consolation match) 3-1 in overtime to Dublin Scioto's Dereal Vasser, so his losses were to the runner-up (Marysville's Taleb Rahmani) and fourth-place finisher (Vasser)."

Johnson went 2-2 at district to finish 33-12 and Norris went 0-2 to finish 21-11.

The Cardinals scored 26.5 points at district to place 23rd.