When Brandon Blakeman took over for Michael Foot-Smith as the new wrestling coach at Eastside High School, he had no intentions of making any exceptions for lack of preparation on his part or for his team to make excuses for failure on its part.
With that understanding from both parties, the Eagles are currently 15-1 overall. Despite being ranked No. 1 by the GASports.com Coaches Poll heading into the 36th Annual South metro Invitational on Dec. 7, Eastside is currently ranked No. 2 in the state for the second time in school history.
I am happy for the team; however, it will take more than just a 15-1 record and being No. 1 in Class AAAA.
Eastside has the opportunity to do something that no other school in Newton County has ever done: bring a team state wrestling title (whether duel, traditional or both) to Covington.
But the Eagles cannot be complacent with regards to their current success. To quote Blakeman, "Being No. 1 only means you have a bigger target on your back."
It would be great for seniors like Jam Griggs (112 pounds), Brandon Cole (130), David Bender (152) and Ardest Carter (215) to usher in a new era at Eastside by completing their prep careers as state champions.
In fact, Eastside could very well be the next Stockbridge - the defending Class AAAA Duel and Traditional State Wrestling Champions. Or even start a dynasty like Ringgold, who won the Class AAAA Traditional State Titles in 2002, '04, '05 and '06, and duel titles in 2001, '04 and '05.
Stockbridge and Ringgold fought hard to hang those championship banners on their walls. That being said, I know Eastside has the capacity to do the same.
During the South Metro Duels, I had a chance to sit down with Cole and sophomore Dalton Temple in between matches. Not only did I enjoy watching these talented athletes do what they do best on the mat, it was the conversations we had that were very refreshing and insightful.
I almost forgot that I was talking to high school kids!
Nevertheless, the Eagles had six guys heading into the semi-finals of the South Metro Invitational, which is a huge success from a pool of 100-plus guys wrestling non-stop for two days straight.
But on the evening of Dec. 8 during the 119-pound classification championship match at the South Duels, Eastside's Joel Stafford (Class AAAA State Champion) took on defending Class AAA State Champion Evan Warrington of Henry County that should be considered the "match of the year!"
It was as physical as any match that I have seen in a long time. Although Stafford lost the battle by a tech (which means he lost by points), he earned the respect of those who witnessed the epic battle.
The success of Eastside wrestling is contributed to the dedication of Blakeman and Smith-Foot, who took a secondary role as the junior varsity coach this season to spend more time with his family.
As a result, 15-1 is the reward for what the Eagles have accomplished this season. And you cannot frown upon a program for being as successful as Eastside has been over the past several years.
Some might say that it is much too early to claim that Eastside will actually win a state championship in wrestling. But people said the same thing about Collins Hill, Henry County, Stockbridge, McEachern and Ringgold - look what happened to those programs and what they have accomplished over the course of a few years.
Eastside wresting winning the state titles in both duel and/or traditional will bring great notoriety to not only the school but for Newton County, as well.
Don't get me wrong: the Alcovy and Newton wrestling squads are both young and not quite as experienced and talented as Eastside. Yet they have the capacity to do great things before the season is over.
In short, Eastside controls its own destiny. From what I have witnessed, this team has no fear or doubt, which very well explains why the Eagles are 15-1.
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