The Bulloch Academy Gator wrestling program has been one of the most successful sports programs in Bulloch County over the past 10 years.
This week, they host the region tournament and are looking for their seventh straight region title.
“It’s tough to keep the team focused on the region with the state looming right around the corner,” said coach Andy Tomlin. “The good thing that happened recently was we actually struggled a few weeks ago, and that served as a wake up call.”
Tomlin said the struggles from two weeks ago resulted in a new focus, and one of the Gators best meets of the year last week.
“The juniors and seniors that had seemed a little complacent have really picked it up,” Tomlin said. “When a two time state champ like Jake Nelson gets beat, that kind of thing woke a lot of these kids up.”
While Nelson is a two time state champion, senior Kyle Samuels has won three state titles, and like the Gator team itself, Samuels will be looking for the rare four-peat this year.
“He’s an integral part of our attempt at a four-peat,” Tomlin said. “He reminds the kids of his eighth grade season when we lost state by a total of four points, and how bad that felt.”
Samuels has been with the Gator wrestling program as long as Tomlin, starting 13 years ago when he was just five years old.
“We started with Kyle when he was in kindergarden,” Tomlin said. “I’ve seen him go from a timid little kid, to a vocal leader of our wrestling team who now mentors the young kids.”
Samuels is the winningest wrestler in Bulloch Academy history. He has an overall record of 163-4 and is looking to join Mitchell Ball as the only four time state champion, and the only wrestler to have won four straight titles.
“Mitchell won as an eighth grader, and then won his ninth and tenth grade seasons, but finished fifth his junior year, before coming back and winning again his senior season.” Tomlin said.
Samuels is hoping all the hard work he has been putting in over the years pays off with a fourth straight win for him and his teammates.
“I’ve been really working hard with coach Kevin Ulmer to add new layers to my wrestling techniques,” Samuels said. “I’m trying to make sure I am not predictable.”
Samuels talent has caught the eye of college scouts, and will be wrestling for the Air Force Academy next season.
“I’m so excited to be joining the Air Force Academy next year as a preferred walk on,” Samuels said. “All the service academies have great wrestling programs, and it’s a beautiful place to go to school as well.”
Samuel and the Gators get things underway as the region tournament is scheduled to get underway Thursday at 5 p.m. at Gator Alley.