CRESTVIEW — Midway through his second season as Crestview High School's wrestling coach, Andrew Black couldn't be happier with the team's progress.
"I've seen immense improvement," he said. "At the beginning of the year I assessed 37 wrestlers. From what I've been told, that's one of the highest numbers Crestview has ever had."
'Back on the map'
"... I see the sport growing," Black said. "I see the enthusiasm coming from the kids. With the popularity of (mixed martial arts) sports out there, kids are way more interested to know what wrestling is all about."
Enthusiasm doesn't stop with the wrestlers, Black said. He credits his assistant coach, Allen Caldwell, a former Bulldog football player and college wrestler, with instilling pride in the program. And Black praised the Crestview High School community for supporting the program.
But he gives the most credit to previous Bulldog wrestlers and coaches.
"I tell our kids last year's state qualifiers, Terryn Williams and Alex Luttrell, never got to wrestle at home," Black said. "They laid the foundation for what these kids are doing now. The Crestview support has been outstanding from the parents and the teachers.
"It's really starting to get Crestview wrestling back on the map. Everybody has laid the foundation and now it's starting to show: the payoff of what everybody had done before me."
Wrestlers to watch
Tradition and history don't win on the mat, but having good wrestlers does, and Black is fortunate to have several top-flight wrestlers on the team.
"At the 152-pound weight class we've got Christian Zoppina ... an outstanding wrestler," Blacks said. "Another outstanding wrestler is Raheem Anthony. He is 145 this year and went to region last year at 138. He's bigger and stronger and we are really excited about him."
Quinton Englebright could have a strong year once he recovers from an injury, Black said.
Hunter Walker, Crestview's undersized heavyweight, also could surprise some people, the coach said.
"My underdog in the heavyweight division is Hunter Walker," Black said. "Last year was his first year wrestling. He played the offensive line for me in football and I convinced him to come out because I thought he would like it.
"He's a junior now and he's someone I'd look out for. Heavyweight is all the way up to 285, and he's only weighing about 235 or 240. We're all excited to see how he's going to match up against the bigger guys from around the Panhandle."
Even with a relatively young squad, Black doesn't shy away from his quest for excellence.
"My expectations are state," he said. "I don't want to say that being cocky, but if you set higher goals, I think you can reach them. I tell them they are students first and then athletes.
"In the classroom, I expect A's and in wrestling I expect state. I feel you should really set your goals high.
"If you don't set your goals high, you are settling for mediocrity."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.