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Gators set off for state tournament
Bulloch Academy's Jake Nelson is gunning for his fourth individual state title at the GISA wrestling championships in Americus this weekend.

It may be a new year, with a new coach, and plenty of new faces, but the Bulloch Academy Gator wrestling team find themselves in the same situation. This past weekend the Gators captured their eighth strate region championship, and this weekend they will be looking for their fifth straight state title.

Andy Tomlin started the Bulloch Academy Gator wrestling team from scratch, and built them into a state power, which culminated with their fourth straight title last season.

Tomlin left to help head up the Screven County wrestling program, and the Gators also lost nine of their 13 starters from a year ago. The good news is that, while they lost a lot, the infrastructure Tomlin helped create has helped the Gators to reload rather than rebuild once again.

The elementary and middle school programs have helped produce this year’s squad, many of whom were back ups to state champions last season.

“I was a backup the past few years, but I have worked hard to earn a spot in the 170 pound division this year,” said junior Jake Wasden. “We wrestled most of the teams we will see this weekend at a meet in Trinity that we won. We are pretty confident we can get it done this weekend.”

While many of this year’s standouts have been waiting for their chance, senior Nate Rice sat out for two years, but was anxious to get back on the mat and pitch in this season.

“I knew we lost a lot of seniors from last year’s team,” Rice said. “I kind of missed wrestling, and I wanted to try and help them win our schools fifth straight title. I think we have the talent to do that this weekend.”

The Gators were also fortunate enough to dodge a bullet as Tomlin’s replacement - Will Johnson - had to leave Bulloch Academy before the season even began. Luckily the Gators found his replacement without having to leave the building, as Eric Dodson took over

 after heading up the elementary program.

“I think the parents felt I was doing a pretty good job with the elementary and middle school kids, so they offered me the varsity job,” Dodson said. “I think a lot of them also knew me from my work with the football team, so I think that definitely helped.”

Dodson came to Bulloch Academy with Gator football offensive coordinator Bill Shaver from Thomasville, to help with the Bulloch Academy football program. He quickly became a popular coach known for his highlight videos and the energy he brought to the football team.

One thing that many of the Gator coaches and players did not know, was that Dodson also had a pretty impressive background in wrestling.

“I started wrestling when I was five years old,” Dodson said. “When I got to high school I was ranked No. 1 in the state twice, but injuries both years cut my season short. I have never been able to achieve a state title, so I’m trying to get a state ring, jus like the rest of the team is trying this weekend.”

The parents are very supportive here at Bulloch Academy, but they are clear how important it is to win that fifth straight title,” Dodson said. “We only have four wrestlers who scored points in the state last year, so this will be one of the toughest challenges

 for the BA wrestling program.”

The cupboard was not totally empty for Dodson, as senior Jake Nelson returned, with three state titles under his belt. This weekend Nelson will look to join former Gators Kyle Samuels and Mitchell Ball as the only four time state champions in GISA history.

“I know who I will have to wrestle,” Nelson said. “I have beaten him before, but I know I can’t go in their cocky. I have to stick to my game plan and execute it.”

“Jake isn’t a verbal leader, but he definitely brings leadership to the table,” Dodson said. “His actions and his aggressive style speak for themselves. The good thing is I can be the motivator, and Jake can be the facilitator with his aggressive style. All I can do is coach, he can show them with his actions.”

Nelson had to miss the beginning of the season with a hip injury, but has slowly worked his way back, and is ready to cap off his career being a part of history.

“It was tough staying off the mat with the injury,” Nelson said. “I had to be patient, and I knew if I did I had a chance to get back to state and achieve my goals.”

The state tournament begins Friday in Americus, and will conclude Saturday.