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Bulloch Academy hosts wrestling camp
BA's Kyle Samuels, right, and Sean Russell (All-American at Edinborough) perform a demonstration in front of attendees at the Takedown Boro Camp. - photo by Special to the Herald

    Anyone who’s in the wrestling know in South Georgia is aware of what’s going on at Bulloch Academy.
    Three straight state championships, a year-round training regiment and a wrestling building all to its own — BA has in a way become the class of the coastal plains. But head coach Andy Tomlin wants the program to grow bigger, and this week was just another step in that process.
    “My goal is to continually make this program bigger and better every year I’m here,” Tomlin said. “Now that we’re hosting a camp, this is going to be the next step in that process.”
    For the first time in program history BA was the site of a summer wrestling camp, which from the outset doesn’t seem like something to throw a fit over. But in the world of amatuer wrestling it’s well known the best prep programs host big summer camps that draw kids into the hundreds. Camden County — arguably the best wrestling program in Georgia regardless of classification — holds one that draws up to 300 kids each session.
    Bulloch Academy didn’t quite hit that mark in year one of the “Boro Takedown Camp” but a head count of 90 wasn’t a bad way to start. Boys and girls ranging from eight to 18 years old made their way to BA’s main gym for a four-day session of technique and conditioning. And Tomlin wasn’t the one in charge of the coaching — he outsourced that work to some highly skilled coaches.
    Through a relationship with Dustin Kawak — the founder of the Takedown wrestling brand which sponsors the camp and is a fellow Gwinnett County native -- Tomlin was able to secure the likes of three decorated college wrestlers. Ryan Millhof and Sean Russell both came to counsel the kids on the better aspects of grappling, and were supposed to be joined by two-time national champion Nick Gwiazdowski had he not been selected to wrestle the US National team right before the camp started.
    “I don’t think I’ve ever been to a camp where the instruction has been this good,” said BA senior Kyle Samuels. “The credentials of these counselors are so above and beyond what I’ve had before.”
    90 kids would huddle around Russell on Thursday morning to watch him demonstrate the proper way to hold the opponent's elbow before performing a duck-under to a takedown. It’s the kind of technique some of the kids who come from places like New Hampstead and Burke County don’t receive in their prep-season training.
    Someone like Russell — who’s from Georgia and has made a name for himself as an All-American at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania — cares about coming back to Georgia and laying down some knowledge to younger kids. So it was to his joy to see so many wrestlers come out to seek his instruction.
    “I definitely didn’t expect to see this kind of turnout because I really didn’t know much about the program at BA,” Russell said. “But this was an awesome experience. I really thought this was a well run camp and it was the kids wanted to be there.”
    The camp drew kids from Burke County, Swainsboro, Pinewood, Statesboro, Screven County, Benedictine and New Hampstead. For most of these schools, the closest camp they’ll find with this kind of quality instruction is two-and-a-half hours away. But now the schools on the fringes of Augusta and in Savannah only have to travel an hour and change for a quality camp.
    “It’s great to have a commuter camp so close by,” said Statesboro head coach Bo Viness. “It was very well run too. I hope we can host something like that at our place someday.”
    As of this week, Tomlin confirmed he has all of the same counselors from the 2017 camp returning for the 2018 edition. The goal now is to have at least 120 campers in next season's iteration, and all the coaches who were in attendance this week said they’ll be back.
    Perhaps the most significant development of the week’s camp was BA’s evolution as the hub of high school wrestling in the coastal plains. This camp hosted by the tiny private school pulled wrestlers from two major cities who lack serious wrestling powers — GHSA or GISA. As previously mentioned, the more and more BA wins — the more and more the program becomes something other schools are trying to copy.
    His wrestlers agreed. Samuels and Seth Conner — a pair of state champion seniors — started in the BA youth program at eight year-olds and started out wrestling in a shed. Now, they’re both individual state champions and could led BA to an unprecedented fourth straight state title. It’s been an inspiring journey to say the least.
    “It’s crazy to think where this was when I was younger, and now we’re here hosting this big camp,” Conner said. “It’s been pretty inspiring to see what coach Tomlin has built here. It makes me want to come back and be a coach if I’m close enough.”
    The Boro Takedown Camp may end up being a mere footnote in the annals of BA’s wrestling history when it’s all said and done, but it certainly looks to be the next step in the growth of what is now becoming a dynasty.