With the wrestling season at its midpoint, Southeast Bulloch is looking to turn the corner and charge down the stretch.
Now in their fourth year of competition, the Yellow Jackets are ready to shed their reputation as newcomers and start building a winning tradition.
“Overall, I’m pleased with how we’ve come along,” SEB coach Dwayne Newland said. “We’re a little behind on our stated goals for winning dual matches, but we’re 10-8 so far this year. I think we’ve got a good group of kids.”
Since starting up the program in the 2008-09 season, the Jackets — like most teams entering into a new sport — have racked up their share of growing pains and stepping stones. They got a little bit of both last weekend at the Wildcat Invitational in Valdosta.
The Jackets fell short on the scoreboard, but everyone walked away with a positive outlook on the rest of the season.
“In last season’s tournament, not a lot of us made it into the second day,” Freshman Kaleb Sellers said. “This year, everyone was able to do that. It gave everyone a lot of confidence to know that we could compete with all of those bigger schools.”
Sellers is doing more than just competing this season. Though still a freshman, he has racked up a 15-5 record in split time between JV and varsity action. Wrestling in the 145-pound weight class last weekend, Sellers had a great showing, winning his weight class in the JV tournament.
Tristan Williams is another young Yellow Jacket who is helping to build the program. Williams is still in eighth grade, but under GHSA rules is still allowed to wrestle for the JV squad. While he may be younger than the rest of his competition, Williams is making the most of his early start, going 6-1 so far this season and placing second in the 113-pound weight class in Valdosta.
“It’s a challenge, but I like it,” said Williams of bumping up to compete with high school students. “I’m learning a lot and getting better. Every time out, I just try to go harder.”
Leading the way — and providing a veteran presence — for SEB is senior Hunter Ferguson.
Last season, Ferguson starred on the team as one of three Yellow Jackets to qualify for the Class AA state tournament. Once there, he continued to excel, making a run to the semifinals and finishing fourth in the state at 171 pounds.
This time around, Ferguson is even more dominating. Through 17 matches this season, he has yet to lose one.
“Hunter is a great example for a lot of our younger guys,” Newland said. “It’s been fun to watch him come through the program and improve. He’s a guy that you can point to and prove that good things come to people that are willing to work hard for it.”
Wrestling at 182 pounds this season, Ferguson is rolling along, and others are starting to take notice. After winning his weight class at the Valdosta tournament, he was further rewarded with the honor of Most Outstanding Wrestler for the weekend.
“That’s something that I never expected,” Ferguson said. “I was thrilled when I found that out. It’s definitely the biggest award I’ve ever earned.”
Still, Ferguson is far from content. Like the rest of the Jackets, his accomplishments so far only serve to make him hungrier for what might lie ahead.
“I’m proud to have been a part of this program since it began,” Ferguson said. “I know that we’re all heading in the right direction. Personally, I know I’ve gotten a lot better through the years, and I think that I can win it all at state this year.”
This week, the Jackets return to action as they travel to Dublin for area team duals at Dublin on Friday and Saturday. The rest of January will be filled with matches against schools in the coastal Georgia region before the area, sectional and state meets in February.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.