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A tradition like no other

Bulloch Academy seniors Garrett Williams, Tyce Lovett and GC Kimbrell are nearing the end of a gilde

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A tradition like no other

Garrett Williams (left), GC Kimbrell (center), and Tyce Lovett (right) stand in the building they helped build and have called home since 2012 along the trophies they've collected as starters for the Gators.

“Big three” has become a nickname we’ve given in pop culture to people or institutions who’ve risen to power and stand alone as dominant forces.
    The phrase was first coined back in World War II in reference to the leaders of the Allied Powers: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. In more modern times it’s been used as a reference for GM, Ford and Chrysler in the automotive industry.
    In sports, it’s been used to reference three stars who’ve propelled a singular team to great heights. Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade of the 2010-2014 Miami Heat are probably the best and most recent example of a big three who did quite a lot of winning.
    However in sports “big threes” don’t normally last so long for one reason or another. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were the last great big three to spend a long period of time together — 14 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs to be exact.
    While 14 years makes up most of the lifespans of Tyce Lovett, GC Kimbrell and Garrett Williams, they too can claim eight seasons together in a different sport.
    The three seniors are the “big three” that make up the Bulloch Academy wrestling team — a program on the precipice of their third consecutive state title and are currently 21-0 in dual matches this season.
    Come winter time Lovett, Kimbrell and Williams spend their afternoons grappling inside the large, aluminum sided building that sits behind BA’s main gymnasium. The facility was erected in 2012, four years after the three boys had become acquainted with one another when Williams moved to Statesboro with his family.
    “Tyce and GC pretty much took me in from the minute I moved here,” Williams said. “They’ve been my best friends ever since too.”
    The three boys didn’t always have the luxury of wrestling in a top-notch facility like they have now. As the story goes, the three of them had to go way off the grid to practice with the team.
    “We used to practice in this shed off West Vine Street,” Lovett said. “We had to raise up tarps around the side so we didn’t have to look as all the debris that was in the building.”
    The shed Lovett speaks of is now a condemned building that sits by itself over off West Vine Street. The “West Building” as they used to call it sits right behind Statesboro Methodist Church and across from the post office.
    Head coach Andy Tomlin remembers going in with Lovett’s father Olin to hang up the what he described as “Home Depot bargain-bin” quality tarps by themselves. Tomlin would bus kids over from BA and stay from 2:00 to 8:00 every day to make sure all Elementary, Middle and High school kids got adequate practice time.
    “We ran into some crazy stuff at the building,” Tomlin said. “We had homeless people walk in on our practices and had to ward them off from the kids. Sometimes you forget that part of town wasn’t so great.”
    As one might assume the building had no climate control, meaning the boys and the other wrestlers would have to take those matters into their own hands. Even if Statesboro doesn’t experience very harsh winters, the days when temperatures did get cold forced the team to get resourceful.
    “We had to use those jet heaters like you see on the sidelines of football games,” Kimbrell said.
    Forced air heaters are the ones Kimbrell speaks of, and if one can imagine the visual of having three flaming jets surrounding a wrestling mat in an abandoned shed — then you can give a glimpse of what these fifth graders were dealing with at the time.
    Lovett and Kimbrell, who had been wrestling since they were in second and third grade respectively, got to know that shed all too well and have plenty of memories from it.
    “I remember getting nosebleeds,” Kimbrell said. “Not from wrestling, but from breathing in the propane that those heaters would give off from running too long.”
    Tomlin remembers the nosebleeds too, even suffering from constant headaches going to bed every night.
    “Lord knows how many brain cells I’ve lost working in that building,” Tomlin said jokingly.
    Lovett recalled a different incident, where wildlife came into play and had to be eradicated immediately so the animals wouldn’t defecate on the mat.
    “My older brother went into the building with an old pump-action shotgun,” Lovett said. “We heard a loud bang, some pinging sounds and then went inside. No more birds in the building.”
    People will read that and may find themselves horrified at the conditions the BA wrestlers had to deal with in their first four years of the program. It took Lovett and Kimbrell’s fathers to get personally involved to finally get a project into motion to build the wrestling field house.
    “I remember those blueprints being in my Dad’s truck forever,” Kimbrell said. “I remember raising up the siding ourselves to put in the walls.”
    Lovett and Kimbrell’s father were integral in the actual construction of the building. Lovett helping with the foundation dirt and Kimbrell framing out the lockers and the hallways in the building.
    “Those two parents were so big in helping us get in that building,” Tomlin said. “Warren Ball helped out a lot financially too. Our parents did all of this without blinking en eye. We wouldn’t have any of this stuff without them.”
    In an almost the figurative sense, as the building rose so did the wrestling program too. The boys and their families literally and figuratively have their fingerprints on the building. So it only seemed appropriate BA would win a state championship their first year in the facility, and it was at that point the program — as Williams describes it — exploded.
    “We were probably in sixth grade when things started to get really big,” Williams said. “It was really cool to watch things take off the way they did.”
    Throughout middle school Lovett, Kimbrell and Williams stayed involved in the program from the lower level and watched BA rise to prominence in the world of Georgia high school wrestling. Sitting in the valley of that mountain was just another experience — much like the old shed — for the future “big three” of Bulloch Academy.
    Those days weren’t without conflict either. With Lovett and Kimbrell always being the bigger kids, they were naturally paired up between each other. Those practices were intense, causing the two to lose their tempers with each other often.
    “I’ve just always been super competitive,” Kimbrell said. “It’s always been in my nature to go hard all the time.”
    Williams would wind up serving as the mediator between the two. He would constantly get an earful between Lovett and Kimbrell about how they’d go at each other in practice.
    “Tyce would come to me and be like ‘God why does he have to go so hard!’,” Williams said in his best Lovett impression. “‘Ugh he makes me so mad sometimes.’”
    Perhaps Williams’ cooler personality is what’s been able to keep the three together. Tomlin’s observed the two for over half of their lives and thinks that’s the case — especially for Williams.
    “Williams has always been a gentler kid,” Tomlin said. “Don’t make a mistake though, he’s as big of a man we have on this team.”
    Williams lost his father at a young age, forcing him to be the man of his household and has shaped him to be the young man he is today.
    “I think it’s a big part of his character,” Tomlin said. “His wrestling switch didn’t flip until he was in tenth grade but when he did it’s been history from there.”
    While Williams may be the softer one, the case is not the same for Lovett and Kimbrell. Both are younger brothers of Bulloch Academy wrestlers and have “rough and tumble” mentalities according to Tomlin. The three have mesh together in an almost artful way, and it’s helped carry them to where they are now.
    After wrestling in the program for well over four years as youngsters, the trio became freshman in the 2013-14 season with BA coming off their 2012-2013 state title season. They started wrestling on a varsity team that went into the 2014 GISA state meet state meet as a 30 point favorite to win the state championship.
    “We had some kids that we knew, or at least thought knew wouldn’t lose,” Tomlin said. “We all felt like we had a great chance to repeat.”
    The big three agreed. Aside from Kimbrell — who placed at state as an eighth grader on varsity — Lovett and Williams were looking starry eyed at another state title, this time with their names on it. They had seen BA legends like Mitchell Ball win state titles in middle school and were ready to have their names on the wall of the building they helped erect from dirt.
    “It’s all we wanted to do,” Lovett said. “It’s all you ever see as a kid. So you stay up at night thinking about it during wrestling season when you’re young.”
    However, the tournament didn’t turn out the way their dreams had played out. Seniors who were supposed to place didn’t, wrestlers who were supposed to win lost — and before the Gators knew it they were 19.5 points shy of Westfield when the tournament was done.
    “We were runners up and it left us all feeling empty inside,” Lovett said. “It was a huge disappointment.”
    Tomlin considers it as one of the low points in his career as BA’s head coach, as post he’s held since 2007. Tomlin walked out of the gym at Tattnall Square Academy and made a vow to his assistants.
    “I looked at them and said ‘This will never happen again’,” Tomlin said. “‘You are either all-in or all-out. We’re going to camps every summer and we’re kicking up the intensity.”
    Since then, BA wrestling has been all-in to the fullest extent of the phrase. Kimbrell says the team has gone as far as Florida during the summer to work on technique with top-wrestling coaches — and don’t even get the guys started on how intense things get during the middle of the actual season.
    “We spend more time here than we do at home,” Williams said. “Coach Tomlin is pretty much our second Dad after football season ends.”
    All three heaped praise upon their coach — even if in their words he can be a “crazy person” at times. However as Kimbrell says it takes someone with that mentality to build up what Bulloch Academy is today.
    “The crazy coaches are the best ones,” Kimbrell said. “You have to be like that to persist and grind like he has to build up everything like it’s been today.”
    Tomlin knows it’s this sort of mentality that may seem unhinged to some parents and patrons is what it takes to build a successful wrestling program. He instills it in his elementary age kids — like Kimbrell, Lovett and Williams some years ago — and those young kids are exposed to the culture and breath it in for as long as they’re in the room.
    The big three are the persona of how culture instilled at a young age can turn kids into champions. As sophomores — the year after BA lost the state title to Westfield — Kimbrell and Lovett won the individual state titles while Williams finished as the runner up.
    Last season all three were the individual state runners-up in their respective weight classes and are looking like heavy favorites to win the individual state titles this season — as the trio have combined to go 78-5 in individual matches this season.
    “These guys have embodies everything I’ve ever wanted in my wrestlers,” Tomlin said. “And they’ve come a long way since they started as little kids.”
    Only time will tell if the three friends will get their story book ending as not only individual state champions, but team state champions as well. The one detail left out was that after that fateful night in Macon back in 2014 Bulloch Academy went on to win the 2015 and 2016 team state titles.
    If BA were to win a third consecutive state title, it would put the big three up on a pedestal with the 2016 seniors from Camden County as the only seniors to win three consecutive state titles in Southeast Georgia.
    “The culture is what keeps up hungry,” Lovett said. “We’ve wanted to get back here and we know we’re going to be good enough to win again.”
    Lovett, Williams and Kimbrell could be the first seniors — athletes period — in Bulloch County to win three consecutive state titles if things follow through like they’ve trained to do since they were elementary age kids.
    As to any doubters, they can ask the big three in person. They’ll know where to find them in the winter, in the same place they’ve always been — even though it’s not a condemned building anymore.

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