CRESTVIEW — There has been little continuity in Crestview’s wrestling program the last few years.
Jeff Fowler — a fixture almost a decade as the Bulldog wrestling coach — built the program from the ground up. Since his departure at the 2008-2009 season’s end, the coaching position has been a revolving door.
First-year coach Andrew Black hopes to end the constant upheaval and return the program to Fowler-era stability.
Black has a wrestling background that should help him in his new job.
“I wrestled two years at Grissom High School in Huntsville, Ala., for Coach Joe Dasaro, so I’ve been around the wrestling circuit before,” he said. “I haven’t been a head coach, but I have volunteered and helped out with Grissom wrestling.
Black, also a Crestview football team assistant coach, jumped at the opportunity to run his own team when Bulldog athletic director and head football coach Kevin Pettis offered him the job.
“Me and coach Pettis have a great relationship,” Black said. “I’ve coached football for him for two years with the offensive line. I’m trying to climb the ladder in this (coaching) business and I saw a great opportunity to take a head coaching job.
“That’s what I’ve wanted and worked for: to be a head coach. I was nervous about taking the head coaching job, but at the same time excited to be building this program to get more attention on Crestview sports and more attention on Crestview wrestling.”
Black isn’t alone in his first year as a head coach. Former Bulldog wrestlers Michael Copeland and Logan Patten assist with the program. Copeland was a state qualifier last year for the Bulldogs.
About 20 participants tried out for the team earlier this fall, Black said. As is the case with every sport, some kids decided wrestling wasn’t for them. There were some academic casualties as well.
The number of wrestlers has dwindled to 12, which isn’t even enough to fill all 14 weight classifications in a match, but Black isn’t discouraged.
What the Bulldogs lack in numbers they make up for in quality, he said.
Senior Alex Lattrell, who competes in the 152-pound class, recently took fifth place at the Capital City Classic in Tallahassee. The meet had more than 30 teams competing.
Lattrell and fellow seniors Terran Williams and Taylor Howard are the team’s heart.
“I have great senior leadership,” Black said. “They never miss practice and really push each other. They call each other to make sure they are on time.
“They push each other to make sure their grades are good. I really do have great kids and they are a unit.”
Black was quick to acknowledge Josh Goudy, who coached the team the last year-and-a-half. Goudy currently is deployed overseas.
“Josh did a great job as far as starting to build the toughness here at Crestview,” Black said. “I’m just trying to carry that on and get more kids to come out and build the toughness here.”
Other wrestling coaches across Okaloosa County and the surrounding areas have passed along advice to help him in his rookie season, Black said.
Crestview has not scheduled home matches this season, but the team will compete in the Beast at the Beach tournament at Fort Walton Beach on Friday and Saturday.
Black said he wants to get Crestview wrestlers used to competing outside their comfort zone and in matches that have the big tournament feel.
He also understands the importance of giving Bulldog wrestling fans the chance to attend home matches. He said he’s eyeing the possibility of hosting some big events at Crestview in the 2013-2014 season.
Black — who wants a family atmosphere on the Crestview wrestling team — said he will push the team with tough love.
“My expectations are high,” he said. “We’ve worked hard like every wrestling program out there.
“I feel if you set the bar higher, you can reach higher goals.”