COVINGTON - Eastside senior Joel Stafford is looking to guide his team to its second traditional state wrestling championship while he tries to hit the mat in the finals for the third time.
Wrestlers from throughout the state, including 40 locally, will converge at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth today with the finals being determined Saturday.
Stafford won state in the 112-pound weight class two years ago but lost in the finals at 119.
He said he's learned from his mistake as he hopes to finish his high school career with another state championship medal.
"I'll have a totally different focus then I had last year. I'm going off to college next year so I'm stepping it up for that next level" Stafford said. "That's what I'm training to do.
"I don't approach anybody differently on the mat this year, whether they're a great wrestler or a mediocre wrestler. That's what happened to me last year. I knew I had beaten that guy two times. That's a great lesson to learn, don't overlook anybody and wrestle how you've been trained to wrestle."
While this tournament is mainly an individual event, it also has team implications.
The Eagles won the Class AAAA traditional state tournament last year, and now they hope to do the same after moving down to Class AAA this year.
Eastside helped itself already by sending the largest group of wrestlers from one team.
"I think we're sending the largest contingency with 13. I know that Lafayette is sending 12 and a couple of other schools are sending 12, 11 and 10," Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman said.
"The field is so limited that all the matches are going to be really good. The teams send that 12, or 13 like us, have a good chance to have at least two or three kids that could be in the finals. It's going to be an exciting tournament."
Even more important than having wrestlers in the finals is having as many place in the top six, according to Blakeman.
The Eastside coach is hoping that at he can have at least nine place but feels confident that he has the talent to have 11 placers.
Joining Stafford at state are Cody Durden (112), Michael Green (130), Trevor Bailey (140), Jonathan Palmer (160), Danny Gatt (119), Tommy Williams (189), Dalton Temple (171), Phillip King (285), Sage Allen (135), Brandon Gatt (103), Jake Malcolm (145) and Jonathan Hilley (152).
Wrestling in Class AAAAA for Newton are Ryan Mitchell (112), Corey Ware (119), Carl Collins (125), Aaron Reynolds (135), Joe Domozio (140) and Hosea Hines (189).
Wrestling in Class AAAA are (Rockdale) Jake Morris (103), Luis Ponce (125), Muhamad Bois (145), Kafuba Donzon (152), Jimmy Brown (160), Lloyd Martell (171) and James Toole (215); (Alcovy) Jon Seymour (103), Adam Pollard (130), Travis Knight (140) and Malachi Outlaw (152); (Heritage) Joel Maldano (103), Billy Abrahamsen (112) and Steven Crawley (119); and (Salem) Joe Morovich.
"There are going to be kids that should do very well," Blakeman said. "But because the field is smaller and better, there are going to be kids that are going to get knocked out or not do as well as they thought they would."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.