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He is a former Navy SEAL and the former Battalion Chief of the Boulder Fire Department.

Now he is the new coach of the Boulder High wrestling program.

Gilbert Espinoza knows a thing or two about the Panthers, too. He was a two-time state wrestling champ at Boulder in the 1960s and went on to wrestle for the University of Colorado. With many of his life goals accomplished, Espinoza figured it was time to give back to the school where it all began.

“When I was a kid, I’d look at the wrestling coach and think that someday I wanted to be a wrestling coach,” Espinoza said. “This is another one of those challenges and dreams.”

Espinoza won a state crown as a junior at 95 pounds in 1964 and at 103 in 1965. After one semester at Northeastern Junior College, he enlisted in the Navy. After a three-year stint, he was offered the opportunity for a full-ride scholarship to wrestle at CU. Leaving Vietnam was an easy decision.

After CU, he began a lengthy stay at the Boulder Fire Department that lasted from 1975 until he retired in 2012. The final 21 of those years were as the Battalion Chief.

Now, it’s time for a new endeavor.

“What I’m excited about right now is the short notice,” Espinoza said. “It’s kind of like going to a fire. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and when it happens you really have to trust your instincts, your talents, know your weaknesses and put them all together and come up with a plan.”

Espinoza isn’t coming in green to the high school ranks. He served as an assistant at Centaurus in the Warriors’ heyday under Mark Schmidt.

“What was big about him is that he wants to build within the halls of Boulder High,” Panthers athletic director Melissa Warfield said. “He wants to be able to walk the halls and be able to get some kids out for wrestling, get kids involved.”

Espinoza replaces Michael Joseph, who served a one-year stint as the Panthers coach after a seven-year run by Glenn Kingsley. Joseph stepped down because he is a teacher at Alameda High School in Lakewood, which made for a tough commute. He ended up taking assistant coaching posts with Alameda’s football and wrestling squads.

“Whoever they get there will be walking into a great situation with the young men they have there,” Joseph told in September.

Espinoza will inherit a Boulder team that is on schedule to return seven seniors, including Martin Selby, a state qualifier last season at 152 pounds. Selby won his first-round match in the Class 5A bracket last season against Arapahoe’s Diego Garcia before losing to Arvada West’s Taylor Bergquist in the quarterfinals.

“I met the young men (Tuesday) and I’m impressed with their enthusiasm,” Espinoza said. “A couple of them, their leadership over the past two years has kept Boulder High wrestling alive. Hopefully it’s ready for me, and I want to be the one who brings change.”

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