JONESBORO — Living in the heart of SEC football country, one could easily get the impression that the sport is this region’s king — even in the summer months that used to represent a rest period.
That may, or may not be the case. But one thing is for sure, it isn’t the only sport that requires a rigorous training regimen.
And it isn’t the only fall sport in this county that has eyes for the pinnacle of its respected forms of success.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at some of the wrestling, softball and volleyball teams — we’ll also toss in some more basketball squads for good measure — and see how they utilize the summer to prepare for their seasons.
Forest Park wrestling
Last summer, Don Williams was pacing the sidelines on the Forest Park practice fields, installing his West Coast offense, and trying to plug in a winning attitude into the Panthers football program.
This year, it’s John Diehl calling the shots on the football field, but Williams is still managing one of the better wrestling programs in Clayton County, as well as the Southern Crescent.
This summer, Williams has not been able to join his squad for summer workouts as he is mending from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. But his wrest;ers are so tuned in to what has been built over the last several years that they are on auto pilot as far as preparation concerned.
“They are doing a lot of things on their own as far as lifting weights and working to get stronger,” Williams said. “A lot of them play football too and are out there with coach Diehl as well. They really want to be successful and at this point these guys are juniors and seniors mostly, so they know what it takes.”
Two state tournament grapplers in rising senior Albert Osuna (145 pounds) and rising junior Blake Kennedy (160 pounds) return, with three others who made the Class AAAAA sectional. Meanwhile, Williams is looking for rising seniors Jesse Cross and Tavaris Clark to make some next steps in progress.
Both were one match away from qualifying for state.
Williams will be sending his team to the Compound Wrestling Center in Henry County to “try and get some of the best training in the southeast.”
He also noted that despite the beginning of the wrestling season seemingly being afar off, the summer is not optional when it comes to the development of his wrestlers.
“It’s huge because it’s about getting that mat time in and getting that training in,” he said. We’re in a very tough region with schools like Whitewater, Ola and Union Grove. For us to get this work in, it will help us come out and do well with so many big challenges in front of us.”
Coach Jamond Sims took a 16-11 squad to its first state tournament in school history last season. He didn’t wait very long to get his boys back on the grind to best their 2012-13 campaign.
At first glance of Luella’s roster, you’d think that there shouldn’t be much cause for concern. TeMarcus Blanton returns for his senior season with a growing list of Div. I colleges vying for his services. Also, 7-foot rising junior Doral Moore all of a sudden is a burgeoning Div. I prospect.
Only three seniors —Nyrryk Evans, Jared Hendricks and Kaderious Compton — from last year’s squad are leaving. But Sims said the small senior class carried a large chunk of playing time on their shoulders.
“We lost a lot of game minutes with those guys,” Sims said. “Although it was just three seniors, those guys played heavy game minutes and had a huge impact for us on the floor, and we’re going to have to find a way to replace that.”
So far this summer, Sims has taken his Lions to summer leagues at Berkmar High in Lilburn, Henry County High’s summer league, along with several other individual scrimmages as a way to get a jump on bolstering his team’s depth.
Monday they will travel to South Atlanta High and on Tuesday, Sims has scheduled play dates for various area teams to come to Luella.
He’s looking for two rising juniors, Darius Norris and Andre Danton, to try and fill the void at point guard left by Evans.
The summer experience is priceless, Sims said, for his up-and-coming youngsters.
“It’s been very important for us to make this progress this summer, and see a lot of kids grow up and step into some roles,” he said. “They’ve been having great success and have been doing it largely without Doral and TeMarcus because of their college visits.”