COVINGTON - Over the past two years, the Eastside Eagles have developed into one of the top wrestling programs in the state.
With several key wrestlers returning, the Eagles will look to continue their mat success.
"The outlook is we expect nothing less than the state championship, both in team state and traditional," new head coach Brandon Blakeman said. "We expect nothing less than to win the area championship and make it back-to-back-to-back area championships."
Last season, the Eagles won both the Area 8-AAAA duals and traditional tournament, then placed second at the state duals and third at the traditional state tournament.
On top of the team accomplishments, Joel Stafford won an individual state title at 103 pounds.
Stafford returns for his junior season this year and is slated to wrestle at 119.
Eastside returns three other area champions from last year, including senior David Bender (wrestling at 152 this year) and juniors Trevor Bailey (135) and Tommy Williams (189/215).
Other returning state qualifiers include seniors Jamarkus Griggs (112) and Ardest Carter (189/215) and junior Michael Green (125).
Other key returning wrestlers include senior Brandon Cole (130) and Jonathan Palmer (160).
Some key newcomers include junior Cody Durden, a Newton transfer who won the Area 2-AAAAA championship last year at 103, and junior Phillip King (285).
"I've got an outstanding group," Blakeman said. "I feel really blessed that this is my first group as head coach. They want it. They're extremely hungry for it. They're practicing harder and are practicing with more intensity than in previous years."
Eastside opens the season today in a quad-match at Hardaway. Other teams include Columbus and Westover.
Some tournaments this year include the U.S. Army Duals on Nov. 24 at Hiram, the East Metro Duals on Dec. 1 at Heritage, the Tiger Classic on Dec. 14 and 15 at Stockbridge, the Kyle Maynard Duals on Dec. 29 and the Brookwood Duals on Jan. 5.
Blakeman said one of the goals this year is to wrestle as many Class AAAAA teams as possible.
"We feel like if you want to get better have you to wrestle the best competition, probably the best you can find in Georgia," he said. "It won't hurt us to go up against them and learn."
Anthony Rhoads can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Eastside wrestling
Head coach: Brandon Blakeman
Last year: Won Area 8-AAAA duals and traditional championships, finished third in Class AAAA state duals and second place in Class AAAA traditional state tournament. Joel Stafford won an individual state title at 103 pounds.
First match: Today in a quad-meet at Hardaway