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Rockdale upbeat about new season

CONYERS - And just like that, Rockdale wrestling begins today by hosting a tri-meet to kick off the new season.

If last year was any indication as to how this year will fare on the mat, the outlook is good.

"We are off to a great start," Rockdale coach Craig Hargrove said. "This team is ready to compete and get better in each outing."

Not only did the Bulldogs win the highly coveted county championship (Conyers Cup) one year ago, but they finished fourth in the area tournament and qualified five wrestlers for state.

"Without question, we want to build off the momentum of last season," Hargrove said. "Our team has its sights on January and February with the area and state tournaments, and they understand the sacrifices and work ethic that comes with that type of commitment.

"Aside from the tangible, we want this team to focus on being successful in all areas, including academically, socially and athletically," he added. "If we can do that, the winning and losing will take care of itself."

The only wrestler not on this particular squad is John Collins (140 pounds), the Area 8-AAAA champion in his weight division who graduated last year.

But there is an abundance of talent waiting to step in.

Four returning varsity wrestlers - Jake Morris (103/112), Luis Ponce (125/130), Kafuba Donzon (160) and Jimmy Brown (171) - will determine how successful Rockdale is this season on the mat.

Last season, Morris placed fifth at state, Ponce finished second and Donzon and Brown were state qualifiers.

Other wrestlers who are returning include Hylan Taylor (119), Darryl Brakefield (140), E.J. Banks (145), Muhamad Bois (152), Rashaud Ferrel (189) and Lloyd Martell (189/215).

First-year wrestlers for Rockdale this season are Jose Robledo (125), Eddy Francis (135), James Toole (215) and Grady Jarrett (285).

Rockdale grapples with Madison County and Stone Mountain beginning at 5 p.m. today.

"Madison County returns most of its team from last year and are traditionally a very technical team," Hargrove said. "Stone Mountain returns most of its squad and will test us on our feet."

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

Who: Rockdale wrestling

Coach: Craig Hargrove (fourth year)

First meet: 5 p.m. today against Madison County and Stone Mountain at Rockdale

Key returning wrestlers: Jake Morris, Luis Ponce, Kafuba Donzon and Jimmy Brown