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State champ Eagles work hard in offseason

COVINGTON - Even after ending the year as the top wrestling team in Class AAAA, Eastside's grapplers are already working hard in their attempt to conquer Class AAA next season.

Eastside's workout schedule includes two intense days of practice a week, several camps and at least one tournament.

Their two-a-week practices not only involve the Eagles, they also have wrestlers throughout the area and beyond.

"Tuesday, typically, it's just us and maybe some kids from Newton and Salem. Thursday is what we call our summer league. We have teams from all over," Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman said. "Last week, we had 87 kids in the gym from surrounding area schools like Newton and Rockdale. Then we had kids from Jackson County, Oconee, Piedmont (Academy), Stone Mountain and Tucker. We actually had Effingham (County) drive four hours just because they didn't have anyone do anything like this with a large enough group to give them any real competition."

Eastside will have a better idea of what it still needs to work on after competing in the Georgia National Wrestling Alliance Militia Duals at the Suwanee Sports Academy today and Saturday.

"It's going to have arguably the best teams in Georgia and the Southeast. It's going to be Collins Hill, Henry County, Parkview, Oak Mountain from Alabama, some South Carolina and Tennessee teams," Blakeman said.

While wrestling against other competitors helps, Blakeman is also going to outside venues with a specialty camp and an overall instructional camp.

Eastside is bringing Matt Keel, head coach of Skyline High School in Front Royal, Va., for a three-day legs camp.

During those three days, the wrestlers will learn to work on offense and counter defense using their legs.

"We're interested in learning new styles because we have kids that like certain things," Blakeman said. "It's an opportunity for us to learn something we don't teach a lot of."

The other camp is their annual camp, which will be in Milledgeville with the University of Missouri wrestling team.

What Blakeman likes about the way the summer is evolving is that not only is the team progressing in its development, the senior leadership is beginning to shape as well.

"It's exciting because that's something that as a coach you preach about but you can't make a kid a leader. It's something that they have to have in them and there's a few in the group that really showed the potential of being a good leader," Blakeman said. "They have to learn it. Being of young age and being dependent on other people, they haven't had the opportunity to be the one other people depend on."

Some of those moving to the front of the pack are Trevor Bailey, Joel Stafford, Michael Green and Tommy Williams.

Even though Williams was in Ohio and did not wrestle for Eastside last year, he's back for his senior year after being on the team as a freshman and sophomore.

"We've got some other seniors who are talented, but it depends on what they want to make of the season," Blakeman said.

With at least seven seniors on the team, the other issue for Blakeman is to get the rest of the squad ready for the future.

One way to ensure that the younger wrestlers learn from the upperclassman is to make sure they get enough time on the mat.

"The thing I stress the most is getting a lot of mat time for the younger guys so they get experience," Blakeman said. "Because eventually some of them may get called upon either as freshman or sophomores and there are a lot of expectations that will be put on them."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.