PORTLAND – Initially told that his knee injury might be season-ending, Portland High wrestler Kidayer Aljubyly was “mad and sad, too,” on the long ride home from the Skowhegan tournament.

“I thought my leg was broken or something like that,” Aljubyly said Wednesday. “But we went to the doctor the next day and he said it wasn’t broken, and to give it two weeks and you can wrestle again.”

Bouncing back from a minor injury? Peanuts compared to some of the other challenges Aljubyly has faced.

Aljubyly was back on the mat for the Western Class A regional, pinning his first two opponents, then outlasting Mike Aboud of Massabesic 6-3 in the 106-pound final.

With a 31-4 overall record, Aljubyly enters the state championships Saturday at Sanford High as the favorite. Only two of his losses have come to Maine wrestlers, an early-season set-back to Kyle Bonti of Morse and the injury default loss in the Skowhegan tournament to the eventual Eastern Class B champ, Peter DelGallo of Gardiner.

Aljubyly is undefeated against Class A competition. He hasn’t wrestled the Eastern Class A champ, Damian Grubb, a Mt. Ararat freshman.

“Kidayer has wrestled fantastic all year,” Portland Coach Tony Napolitano said. “He’s put in a lot of hard work the past two years and it’s paying off.”

Aljubyly’s path started half a world away when he was 11.

That’s when Kadhum Aljubyly decided it was time for him and his wife, Bathena, and their sons, Kidayer, Ali and Jasem, to leave the family’s native Iraq.

“My dad came because of the work and stuff. We came because we wanted to,” Kidayer Aljubyly said.

Kidayer said the family saw images of the Iraq War “on the news,” but didn’t have personal encounters.

They stay in touch with relatives via Skype.

He said he would like to return to Iraq for a visit, perhaps. “If peace, maybe I’ll go.”

The family first moved to Louisiana, then to Texas, locating in Portland when Kidayer was in the seventh grade.

While wrestling has a deep and honored history in Iraq, Aljubyly had never wrestled until, encouraged by friends, he found his way to the lower-level wrestling room at Portland High in his freshman year.

“He didn’t speak English. He showed up after we had tryouts,” Napolitano said.

“We’ve been through this a lot. Kids show up late, it’s a whole lot of pain in the neck to get them going, and then they quit two days later.”

Napolitano said he had a policy to not allow latecomers a spot in the cramped room but decided to make an exception for Aljubyly.

“I told him I was going against my own (policy) but he said he’d stick it out,” Napolitano said.

It didn’t take long for both Napolitano and Aljubyly to realize it was the right decision.

“He’s very strong, very athletic,” Napolitano said. “He has good awareness on the mat. Some people always seem to turn the wrong way and Kidayer very rarely does that.”

“I had never wrestled in my life. It was fun. That first year I liked it,” Aljubyly said.

“I lost a few matches and I set a goal for the next year to get better. Even when it’s hard I just push myself to be a better wrestler.”

As a freshman, Aljubyly finished fifth in the Western regional, making it to the state meet as a non-wrestling alternate.

As a sophomore he was stuck in the 113-pound division due to missing an early-season weight management standard. Aljubyly advanced to the state meet and finished fourth, but the 5-footer, who can bench press “about 180 pounds,” was intent on wrestling at 106 as a junior.

“I thought I could do better at 106 because that’s what I weigh anyway,” said Aljubyly, who admitted that his diet restrictions of eliminating ice cream, soda and fast food are minimal compared to most wrestlers.

On the mat, he tries to get underneath his invariably taller opponents and “get tight,” to them, where he can better use his superior upper-body strength.

Aljubyly says he “needs more improvement as a wrestler,” but also knows a state title is within his grasp.

“I’m going to give it all I’ve got to win states,” he said. “I just need to put everything I’ve learned and keep my head on the mat.”

Staff Writer Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at:

scraig@mainetoday.com