ZACH Morrison made some major strides with a Coosa High School wrestling program that had scarcely enough headgear to go around when he arrived.
Now he’ll try to guide East Jackson’s grapplers to the next step.
Morrison, 26, has taken over as the Eagles’ head coach following a three-year stint at Coosa.
“It felt like the right place to be,” Morrison said of his new job.
The coach spent his three seasons at Coosa resuscitating a program equipped with virtually nothing. The program had just six wrestlers, one 25-year-old mat, three sets of headgear and had gone four years without a dual win prior to Morrison’s arrival in 2009.
Coosa won 18 dual matches in Morrison’s final year.
The coach — who takes over for Randy Hill, who spent four years with East Jackson — has a plan in mind for East Jackson, starting with boosting participation numbers. The Eagles had just 12 wrestlers for the 2011-2012 season. Morrison wants to get kids interested in wrestling early and often by establishing a youth wrestling program.
“I want us team-wise to be a top six contender in about three to five years,” Morrison said. “I think we’re capable of doing that as a program if you can get kids interested in wrestling in the middle school level, if you can get kids, earlier that, interested in wrestling.”
Specifically, Morrison wants to win an area championship within five years and compete for a state championship and produce multiple state placers within that time frame as well.
His 10-year vision is for East Jackson to be recognized as one of the premier wrestling programs in Georgia and have multiple wrestlers earning college scholarships.
Morrison, himself, enjoyed a successful high school career on the mat at Forsyth Central, advancing to the quarterfinals as a heavyweight three years in a row and going 44-6 as a senior. A standout football player as well, Morrison moved on to Shorter University in Rome where he became a two-time NAIA All-American selection on the gridiron under coach Phil Jones.
Jones’ guidance made an impression on Morrison.
“While I played football at Shorter, head coach Phil Jones built our program based on relationships,” Morrison said. “I have found throughout my time as a coach, if you invest yourself in the athletes’ lives your program will grow more and more successful. The wrestlers know you care about them and any situation that may arise.”
Following graduation, Morrison landed his first job at nearby Coosa High School, coaching the offensive line and heading the wrestling program.
He got things going in the right direction at Coosa. The wrestling program eventually added more equipment and mats and won the Floyd County title this past year. It was also sending wrestlers to the state meet regularly.
But Morrison said he needed to be closer to his family, and couldn’t do that coaching in Rome. He has a brother suffering from spinal muscular atrophy who lives in Athens. The relocation will help Morrison with day-to-day care for his brother.
Meanwhile, he’ll go about building again at East Jackson. He explains his coaching philosophy.
“I believe in teaching our athletes the fundamentals of wrestling,” he said. “I will demand that East Jackson wrestlers be disciplined and be able to move beyond the basics. I want my wrestlers to give it all every time they step on the mat, whether it be practice situations or in a match.”
While he only inherited three sets of headgear in his last job, Morrison gets a returning region champ at East Jackson with heavyweight Jeff Chandler. Chandler also finished third in the state last year.
What’s more, 22 wrestlers, not including the upcoming ninth graders, attended Morrison’s first team meeting. That’s a step in the right direction he said.
“If I can just get some kids that want to compete and they want to win, and if I get some kids that just hate losing, that’s what I want,” Morrison said. “That’s what I want — kids that just hate losing just as bad as I do.”