Zach Morrison is striving to build a program at East Jackson and the first-year coach is already taking care of one basic component: participation.
The Eagles finished with just nine wrestlers last year but start this season with numbers in the mid-20s.
“It’s definitely a boost,” said Morrison, who built a program from the ground up at Coosa before coming to EJCHS. “A lot of recruiting. We’re a very young team.”
The youth didn’t stop the Eagles from having a successful opener at a duals tournament in Banks County Nov. 17 with wins over Union County, Duluth and Riverwood. East Jackson finished fifth.
Individually, Jeff Chandler (heavyweight) went 5-0. Alex Trejo (160-lb.), Hugo Equiarte (132-lb.) and Dalton Chandler (170-lb.) all went 4-1.
“I thought they wrestled extremely hard,” Morrison said. “A lot of effort was given. We’re going to fix a couple of things this week at practice. But I was very, very happy and pleased with how they wrestled.”
The building process for Morrison began over the summer, holding workouts soon after he arrived with eight to 10 wrestlers meeting twice a week. Several wrestlers continued that work during the fall.
As it stands now, East Jackson will fill out every weight slot this year, which is an improvement over recent years.
What’s more, the Eagles have over 40 wrestlers in practice daily combined with the middle school team.
“If we can just keep participation up, I think we can be all right and have a pretty good season,” Morrison said.
The Eagles return an area champion with Jeff Chandler manning the heavyweight spot. Chandler made it to the state meet at Gwinnett Arena last year and finished third in Class AA.
Others highlighting the Eagle lineup include freshman Devon Jackson, who Morrison said shows a lot of promise at 106; Equiarte, a quick wrestler who the coach expects a lot out of at 132; Taylor Murphy, who will “be really good” for the Eagles at 152; Trejo, who Morrison believes will win tournaments at 160 and should reach sectionals; Dalton Chandler, who Morrison also believes can get to sectionals at 170; Michael Seagraves, a young wrestler at 182; Michael Stepanek, who is raw at 195 but possesses a lot of strength; and Dayton Watkins, a returning wrestler at 220-lb.
East Jackson’s new area — 4-AAA — does it no favors as the Eagles face some stiff competition. The Eagles just saw one of the top teams in the area.
“It’s a very tough area,” Morrison said. “Wrestling Banks over the weekend, too, they’re a very, very well-coached team. They’ve got a lot of upper classmen, so it’s going to be a tough area. But there’s a couple of individuals that should have good years.”
It’s Morrison’s goal to take a handful of wrestlers to state this year, and build on that.
“They’re working extremely hard in practice,” Morrison said. “That’s one thing that we’ve seen a lot. They’re running. They’re working out hard. They’re in here and they’re really busting their butts which is great.”