COVINGTON - Forty local wrestlers will converge at The Arena at Gwinnett Center starting today in hopes of coming off the mat Saturday as a state champion.
In Class AAAA, Eastside is taking the largest contingent with 10 wrestlers, followed by Alcovy and Heritage with six, Rockdale with five and Salem with two.
"Due to how tough our area is we didn't get to qualify all 14, where teams like Stockbridge qualified all 14," said Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman. "They're good wrestlers, but their area doesn't have the depth that ours has. But the 10 that are going are extremely capable and talented. They have the potential to make it through the quarterfinals."
Newton is taking 11 as it competes in Class AAAAA. Salem senior Peter Yates (145 pounds) is shooting for his third state championship, while fellow Seminole Sam Ahonen (152) has a good chance of making some noise as well.
Eastside's Joel Stafford (119), Trevor Bailey (135), Jon Palmer (171) and Cody Durden (103) are all considered threats to bring home state titles.
What gives some of Eastside's wrestlers a better-than-average chance is their placement in the bracket. However, being on the right side of the bracket does not guarantee a trip to the finals. They must stay focused and get the job done.
"There are two or three that I expect to see in the finals," Blakeman said. "That's not to say the other ones can't, because they definitely can. There's a couple that if they wrestle smart, because they have good brackets and they don't overlook, they have a chance.
"Sometimes when you have the good side of the bracket, you tend to look at the other side of the bracket and not your side. But if they can maintain their focus on who they have one at a time, they'll do fine. I see the possibilities for five or six state placers, maybe seven. But it's all on their shoulders."
Besides wrestling for individual bragging rights, Eastside also is hoping to get the ever elusive state championship. But Blakeman likes his chances with this group.
"Even though we're not taking as many as we have in the past, our goal to bring home a state title has not changed," Blakeman said. "With the team that we've got, because they all have experience at state, all the jitters and nerves have been pushed aside. They're not the young kids who get overwhelmed. This is old news to them."
Also going to state for Eastside are Jamarkus Griggs (112), Michael Green (125), Brandon Cole (130), David Bender (152), Ardest Carter (189) and Karl Williams (215).
Alcovy's wrestlers include Jon Seymore (103), Adam Pollard (130), Travis Knight (135), Corey Reid (140), Malachi Outlaw (160) and T.C. Jackson (189).
Heritage's six are Cody Shubert (112), Steven Crawley (119), Raheem Williams (125), Erik Lauritsen (130), John Wigington (160) and Travis Wynne (285).
Representing Rockdale are Jacob Morris (103), Luis Ponce (125), John Collins (140), Ahmed Burton (145) and Kafuba Donzon (160).
In Class AAAAA, the Rams are hoping to make some noise with 11 qualifiers.
If they get a good bracket, Newton coach Chris Andrews is hoping to get at least five through the final day on Saturday.
"The kids seem motivated and everyone seems excited. I think we'll do fairly well," he said. "Everyone has their day, and hopefully we'll have a few kids make it through Saturday."
The Rams with the best chances of placing are Corey Ware (119), Aaron Reynolds (130), Joey Joseph (140), Danny Mendoza (135) and Michael Fellow (285).
"If they have a good, clean ride in the brackets, we have a chance to be there," Andrews said.
Also representing Newton are Ryan Mitchell (112), Carl Collins (125), Joey Domizio (145), Andrew Terrell (152), Josea Hines (171) and Allen Amancio (215).
Newton's first challenge belongs to Terrell, who drew Harrison's Josh Condon. Condon is ranked the No. 10 wrestler in the nation according to the Feb. 13 rankings by Amateur Wrestling News.
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Traditional state wrestling tournament
When: Today through Saturday
Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth