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SHEPHERDSVILLE – In high school wrestling, there is often a game within the game that coaches play.
Yes, there is certainly the desire for team success. The Bullitt Central Cougars and head coach Josh Durham did that in 2006 and 2007, winning the regional title. There was even that push a year ago, although, the Cougars ended up third.
But there is also the individual chase in each of the 14 weight classes. This winter, Durham will focus a little more on building up individuals as opposed to preaching team success.
Of course, you can have both in wrestling. Unfortunately, because of heavy graduation losses, Durham is calling this a ‘rebuilding’ season as far as the team goes.
That is why the focus will shift to seniors Jeremiah Walls and Akeem Bennett. Walls had the best finish ever for a Bullitt Central wrestler last year when he finished third at 160-pounds. Bennett, competing in the post-season for the first time a year ago, was sixth at 140-pounds.
Both are ranked near the top of their weight classes in the pre-season and Durham has set the ultimate goal for both of them - a state championship.
“I expect as much, if not more, out of both of them,” Durham said after practice last week of their state finishes a year ago. “Really, it will be up to each of them how much work they do in practice. They both know what they need to work on in practice.
“Both of them can do it,” the coach added. “Both of them have that in sight. Competition will have something to do with it.”
Walls and Bennett will start out wrestling in the same weight class as last year. At some point during the season Durham and the wrestlers will look over the region and state and see if a minor move up might be in their best interests for a tournament run.
That is where things will change this year from the past three seasons under Durham. In the past, team members were put into the weight classes where they could best help the team score points even if that was not in the best interests of the individual wrestler.
Now, Bennett and Walls will be put in the best spots for them and the rest of the team will then fill in the other spots.
That really won’t be a problem since most of the rest of the team is both inexperienced and young.
Durham does have some experience at 145-pounds with junior Terry Coulter and at 171 with sophomore Matt Lafollette. For everybody else, it will pretty much be a learn as you go season.
In fact, ten days ago, Bullitt Central had about 12 wrestlers at a normal practice. Then, the football team had its season come to an end and on the following Monday, the practice roster swelled to 32, including Bennett who was a running back and defensive back for the fall sport.
In past seasons, Durham has had fairly good numbers in November. Unfortunately, those numbers often dwindled to 12 to 15 by February.
The coach is taking a slightly different approach this season, working to get the new wrestlers to learn the sport first and then going through the tough physical conditioning. Reversing that mentality in the past ran off some promising wrestlers.
“Right now I just want to get the guys to love the sport,” Durham said of a team that also has one female wrestler.
With so many new wrestlers, Durham couldn’t put names and weight classes together at this point. He says that he does have some good athletes in the middle weight divisions, but won’t have anyone at 103-pounds after James Badgett held that spot for the past four years and finished sixth and fourth at state his last two seasons.
Durham does feel that he can fill 13 of the 14 weight classes with the present group of wrestlers.
The program has a new assistant coach this year in Chris Willman. His background is more in martial arts, but the conditioning aspects are much the same. Unlike some past assistant coaches, Willman does teach at Bullitt Central.
Bullitt Central will open the season at home on Tuesday against Oldham County. The weigh-ins will start at 5 p.m. and the varsity wrestling should begin sometime around 5:30 p.m. Admission will be $3.
The first major meet of the season will be the Bullitt Central Invitational which will be held on Dec. 6.