By R. Alan Richardson
Morgan County’s wrestling program is a prideful one with a history and tradition of winning. Coach Carter Shultz should know. The second-year coach is a former MCHS wrestler under Coach John Robbins that knows the process it takes to become successful at the Area and State level. “Our program is definitely trending up. When you look at our middle school program and the work there that Coach (Marcus) Crowe has done along with Duane Turner and Christian Darsey; they do an outstanding job. We are better off there this year than in a long time,” said Shultz.
A point he made about the MCMS program was their second place finish a week ago in the Social Circle Redskin Rumble. They defeated two of the three perennial powerhouse wrestling programs in that event. Those teams included Social Circle, Jefferson, and Jackson County; all of which are in the top three to five wrestling programs in the state in their respective classifications.
The first year for the new guy was certainly eye opening. He commented, “It was definitely a learning experience for me as far as doing all the things you have to do as a head coach. I ran the JV football program with Coach (Marvin) Mathis and was the defensive coordinator, but that is not that much responsibility compared to wrestling. I took my lumps, but now I look back at what my high school coaches did and appreciate it so much more. My appreciation for those guys went way up.”
Shultz is one of many high school coaches that jump from one sport right into the next. As the JV co-head coach, he also coaches the varsity defensive backs for Coach Brett Bell and Coach Bill Malone. He said, “I went from riding a bus home from Calhoun and our final football playoff game to getting about two hours of sleep and getting back on a bus for a wrestling match the next morning. It’s the new normal and I’m sort of used to it.”
When it comes to this year’s varsity group, Shultz is both excited and realistic about his young team, “I got my feet wet last year. It was nice to have some familiar faces around like seniors Donovan McElligott, Finn Williams, and Trevor Craft. They knew me and what I’m capable of. That belief and familiarity helped me a lot, but it was a little difficult at times because of my age (24). At the end of the day, I’m your coach, not your friend.” According to Shultz, the MCMS program needed a rebuilding overhaul two years ago when they only suited up seven or eight, maybe ten wrestlers. Crowe has filled that void, but the damage had been done. It’s difficult to sustain a sport that requires 14 wrestlers to fill all the weight classes with those kinds of numbers. Last season the Dogs filled 11 of those 14 spots. “Even though this year’s team is trending upwards, everybody is young. We only have two seniors and two or three juniors. The positive about that is that our starting squad will be returning with valuable mat time under their belt as expectations become higher for them.”
The Area (Region) schedule will be no cakewalk for the Mat Dogs. Shultz described it as a “meat grinder”. “When you look at our Area, you have two state contenders in Jefferson and Jackson County. My biggest goal is to continue to get better throughout the year and put ourselves in position next year with everybody back to get back to the State Duals and finish first or second in the new Area (those wrestling Areas have not been assigned by the GHSA as of this writing). The level we want to get to is not where we are right now. Can we get there? Yes, but right now we have to set the foundation on solid rock. We have the people, coaches and players to get there.”
That coaching staff is star-studded with three assistants with State Championship wins as high school wrestlers under their belt. Aubrey Fortson enters his first season with the wrestling program after coaching track for the past two seasons. He was a heavyweight champion at Elbert County. Sam Simmons returns on the staff as a former Morgan County State Champ, and Tim LeClair also returns. He was a State Champion at Redan High School.
Shultz continued, “Every grown person in that room knows what it takes to get where we need to be. Our kids are working extremely hard. We may not be that good at wrestling yet, but we want to be that team that nobody wants to wrestle. When they walk away we want them saying that Morgan County is in good condition, tough, wrestle hard for six minutes, beat you up, and stay in good position. If the kids will just trust the process and buy in, we will be fine.” The history major and military history buff left us with this, “I’m reading a book now called ‘About Face’. There’s a quote in there that stuck with me. It says about this military unit, ‘They weren’t a special unit; just a group of guys that thought they were good and so, they were good’. I want us to be that unit.”
The Dogs have already started their 2019-20 campaign with meets at Harlem and Greater Atlanta Christian. They continue this week with a Wednesday night home met that includes the varsity squad wrestling against Monroe Area and the JV going against possibly Athens Academy and Carver Middle Schools. Action starts at 4:30.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Mat Dogs will host their annual home wrestling tournament on Dec. 13-14. Strong teams from around the state and in all classifications will be competing in this event.