While many sports require tons of hard work, sacrifice and dedication, high school wrestling certainly ranks toward or at the top of the list.

Not only are athletes constantly going through grueling practices and training, but at the same time, many are trying to keep their weight down in order to compete in a certain weight class. But all that work is worth it if the wrestler achieves his goals, whether that is a State medal or a high finish as a team in State Duals or the State Traditional Tournament.

The three local prep wrestling teams got back to work recently to prepare for the season, and all three squads have high goals for 2017-18.

Sonoraville, under second-year head coach Randy Steward, returns multiple individual state champions and finished third at Class AAA State Duals last season. The Firebirds are looking to take their program to an even higher level this season.

Calhoun has a very experienced team back this season as well after losing just one senior from last year’s roster. Fourth-year head coach Michael Herndon is looking for many of his guys to step up into leadership roles and perform well on the mat

Gordon Central will start an new chapter in their wrestling program as new head coach Cory Nix takes over for his first season in 2017-2018, and much like he did as the head football coach this fall, he will be preaching culture change to his wrestlers.

Recently, the Calhoun Times interviewed each of the three local head coaches as they head into the season full speed.

Here’s the information they gave on their team and their answers to several questions:

SONORAVILLE

Head Coach: Randy Steward (second year)

Key Wrestlers: Allen Stone (Soph., 110), Gavin Thompson (Sr., 113), Tyler Hunt (Jr., 126), Trevor Burdick (Jr., 132), Brandon Bell (Sr., 138), Hunter Wilson (Sr., 152), Charlie Brown (Soph., 170), John Knight (Jr., 195)

Last Season’s Accomplishments: Third at Class AAA State Duals, Second at Class AAA State Traditionals, Seven State Qualifiers, Three State Champions (Tyler Hunt, Trevor Burdick, Ian Clark)

Coach Questions:

CT: How much familiarity do you have with the team going into your second year with the program and how much has the team bought into your coaching style and what you expect of them?

STEWARD: Being new anywhere is difficult, and I had spent the past 23 years at Loras College, 12 hours north of here. So it has taken some time to make the transition. Fast forward to one year later, and I feel much more comfortable with the kids in our program…over the past year we have been able to spend some real quality time together, and I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with the kids and parents. It has also taken a year to get a feel for the landscape of Georgia high school wrestling and how things actually work.

CT: What has been the biggest focus this offseason and preseason and how hard have the guys worked to get better?

STEWARD: Two things come to mind when talking about what has been the biggest focus since the end of last season. No. 1 is increasing the size of our roster and convincing kids to get excited about wanting to be in our program. With the success we had last February we have been able to attract new kids and grow our roster. No. 2 is a key factor to me was convincing and encouraging our kids across the board about the importance of offseason wrestling. That being said many of them traveled weekly to freestyle tournaments last spring, and we had a great month of activities in June. I believe it brought our team closer together as well as allowing them to improve their skill levels.

CT: What are the keys to this team reaching its full potential for the 2017-18 season?

STEWARD: The theme for this season is “Making Sonoraville Great.” Keys for this team to be successful include getting everyone at the correct weight in order to allow us to score maximum points, train hard, stay injury free and peak in early January and then peak again in mid-February.

CT: What are your goals and/or expectations for what this team can accomplish this season?

STEWARD: We want to get better every day and leave everything on the mat in Macon.

CALHOUN

Head Coach: Michael Herndon (fourth year)

Key Wrestlers: Brice Craig (Sr., 195), Jacob Dunlap (Sr., 160), Eric McKnight (Jr., 220), Reece Poe (Soph., 138)

Last Season’s Accomplishments: Three State Qualifiers

Coach Questions:

CT: After losing only one senior from last year’s team, how much experience do you have returning and how exciting is that for you as a coach to have so much talent back?

HERNDON: We did lose one senior, but we lost a great wrestler and leader on an off the mat. We are excited to have three state placers returning. Though we only lost one senior, we are still young. We have five seniors this year but nearly 20 freshmen. As of right now, it looks like we will have about 40 on the roster once football season is over. We have a long way to go, but should be exciting getting there.

CT: What has been the biggest focus this offseason and preseason and how hard have the guys worked to get better?

HERNDON: A big focus for us was numbers. We knew we had a lot of kids coming up from the middle school, and our focus was to make sure as many of them came out to wrestle as possible. In the past we have had kids who just didn’t want to wrestle once they got to high school. We began optional preseason workouts at the beginning of September and had really good numbers. We had about 25-30 kids between the middle school and high school show up each day to work out and condition. Most of the others were involved in a Fall sport.

CT: What are the keys to this team reaching its full potential for the 2017-18 season?

HERNDON: We are emphasizing the idea of being a family and working hard not only for yourself but for the guy next you. We are counting on our seniors and juniors to be leaders for our younger guys and show them what it means to be a Calhoun wrestler.

CT: What are your goals and/or expectations for what this team can accomplish this season?

HERNDON: I know it’s a generic answer, but we just want to see improvement from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Another goal each year is to take one more wrestler to state than we did the previous year. We took three last year, so we are shooting for four this year.

GORDON CENTRAL

Head Coach: Cory Nix (first year)

Key Wrestlers: Branson Towe (Sr., 170), Christian Davis (Jr., 152), Ethan Mitchell (Sr., 220), Shane Davis (Fr., 120)

Last Season’s Accomplishments: Multiple Sectionals Qualifiers

Coach Questions:

CT: Going into your first season as head coach of the Warriors, what do you want your wrestlers to know about what kind of coach you are and what you expect from them? How much of having success is going to be the guys buying into your coaching style?

NIX: First of all as far as me being their head coach, I want them to know that a culture change is going to continue for this sport just like what occurred in our football season. We are going to always do things right on and off the mat while we represent Gordon Central as student-athletes. I also want this to be known that I couldn’t be the head wrestling coach without the help of my assistant coach Michael Grubbs. Our goal as a wrestling staff is to improve this program and take it to the next level. We are going to achieve that by working hard each time we get on the mat whether that’s practice or a match. The most important thing I want our kids to know is that I committed to them to make this a great program, but they have to be committed to us. I want my wrestlers to know that I’m all about relationships first. My goal as their coach is to have a great relationship with them that will allow me to get the most out of them on the mat and more importantly motivate them in the classroom to represent Gordon Central Wrestling. I expect them to give me all they’ve got, be coachable at all times and do right at all times. The wrestlers at Gordon Central are hungry for success, and they just love the sport so for them to buy into my coaching style, it’s going to be an easy process. We have 28 wrestlers out this season which is a great thing compared to the past, and 15 of them were football players so they know what I expect out of them.

CT: What has been the biggest focus this offseason and preseason and how hard have the guys worked to get better?

NIX: Since I’m the head football coach and my assistant is also a football coach, we haven’t really had a huge offseason per say. Most of our kids have been involved with football, so they haven’t had any time.

CT: What are the keys to this team reaching its full potential for the 2017-18 season?

NIX: We are a pretty young team overall with only four seniors so in order for us to reach our full potential I feel like we have to learn each time we go on the pat. Learn from experiences such as a win or loss during a match. Each day we have practice they have to learn the moves and techniques that we are teaching them. We also have to be in tip-top shape all season long so that we can get to the third period of each match and be in better shape than our opponent. I think the culture change with this group is going to be easy because even though it’s early on in the season they love to be around each other and they love the sport.

CT: What are your goals and/or expectations for what this team can accomplish this season?

NIX: Our goal as a team is to make it to State. As far as individuals go I would love to send as many as possible to State. Last year a few of them were one match away from going to State. So I think several on this team have a chance to do it, but they have to put in the work for that goal to happen. My personal goal as their head coach is to develop a relationship with them and to help this program grow on and off the mat.