“It was the single most influential thing in my life,” he said. “I’d be more content in life if he were still around, but I wouldn’t be as driven.” Michael Guardado was just 45 at the time of his passing, but left his son a lifetime of values that A.J. uses as motivation to achieve lofty goals. “He believed I was capable of things I didn’t think I was capable of, and everything I achieve now is kind of incomplete without him here to see them,” Guardado said. “I remember holding his hand the night he died and thanking him for everything he taught me and for being my dad.” “A.J. is the top student-athlete I’ve ever coached in my 12 years at West Covina,” coach Donnie Stephens said. “He is everything you want as a leader.” Guardado is a positive person even in the worst of times, and again credits a family member for his outlook on life. “My grandma (Carmen Orona) was such an optimistic person and taught me there’s a silver lining in everything,” Guardado said of Orona, who died in 1999 at age 65. Guardado, along with teammate George Munoz, recently became the first Bulldogs in school history to win four consecutive league individual championships. The feat is something Guardado is proud of, but he has his goals set much higher for runs in the CIF, Masters and state meets. His best showing was a second-place finish last season in CIF at 130. The West Covina standout looks for a big showing in this weekend’s Coastal Division meet at Marina High. “It would be big for me personally to win CIF because of all I’ve been through,” Guardado said. “If he doesn’t win, it won’t be because he wasn’t prepared or out-worked,” Stephens said. If his exploits on the mat weren’t enough, Guardado is poised to attend either Stanford, Harvard, Pennsylvania or Columbia. Guardado wants to major in either psychology or sociology and would like a career in the field of mental health. He is so well-liked even wrestlers from rival schools admire him. South Hills’ Thomas Williams, top-ranked in the state at 112 pounds and co-MVP of the San Antonio League along with Guardado – they have a combined record of 72-0 – had nothing but praise for his counterpart. “A.J. is a class guy on and off the mat,” Williams said. “He’s amazing because I’ve never seen him giving anything less than his all on the mat and has an incredible work ethic.” Guardado treasures the relationship with his older brother Gilbert, 21, that has grown especially close since their father’s passing. “Gilbert does the things for me that a father would do, but he is still my brother and a sort of peer/mentor for me,” A.J. said. Guardado proudly boasts the initials of his parents on his head gear as a way of honoring the people he credits for being the person he is today. “Family is a really important thing to me, and it’s helped me get through the tough times,” he said. If Guardado places this weekend, he will have been All-CIF each of his four years at West Covina. Guardado pointed to his drive as the difference in his remarkable senior showing. “I am always analyzing my matches to find little ways to get better and eliminate mistakes. I can’t stand walking off the mat knowing I could have done better,” he said. It’s that kind of mind-set that makes Guardado even more valuable to his teammates and coaches. “He has become an assistant coach for me, and I ask him for his ideas on strategy all the time,” said Stephens, who believes Guardado’s selflessness and work ethic are the reasons for his popularity among teammates and even opponents. “When you see someone work so hard like A.J. does, it’s very gratifying to see him enjoy some of the success he’s had.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WEST COVINA – A.J. Guardado gives one reason for his phenomenal success on the wrestling mat and in the classroom. Family. The West Covina High School senior is 36-0 with 24 pins and is ranked No. 1 in the CIF-Southern Section in the 135-pound division. He has a 4.1 grade-point average in honors classes, but Guardado wants very little of the credit for his achievements. Guardado, 18, said the death of his father Michael in November 2003 was the defining moment in his upbringing.