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SEB weightlifting claims state championship
weight crop
Southeast Bulloch state champion weightlifter Chase Walker goes through a set during a Thursday afternoon workout as sophomore Dylon Williams gives him a spot. The Yellow Jackets claimed the Class AAA state championship at last weekend's meet held at Jefferson County High School. - photo by HORACE HOLLOMAN/staff

    BROOKLET — Southeast Bulloch High School has the strongest athletes in Class AAA. No, seriously. If there’s any doubt, they have the hardware to prove it.
    After years of hardwork and dedication to SEB’s year-round weight training program, the Yellow Jackets were crowned state champs in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association competition at Jefferson High School.
    The Yellow Jackets dominated the competition, scoring 120 points. Washington County, who finished in second place, scored just 72 points.
    “We’re proud of the kids for working hard and I’m happy for the kids and happy for the school,” said SEB football and weightlifting coach Pat Collins. “It’s significant for our school and it’s a sign of progress that our boys have made. I’m proud for our school and proud for those boys.”
    At the meet, the lifters competed in the power cling and bench press. Fifteen of SEB’s 20-man team scored points for the Yellow Jackets in the competition, including six individual state champions.
    At the 2016 GACA meet, Jonathan Volskay (151-160 weight class), Cecil McCollum (161-170), Nick Joyner (171-180), Chase Walker (181-190), Ryan Ruarks (206-225) and Paul Allen (226-245) won an individual state title.
    “It has been a group effort to get a group of guys to buy into a strength program,” Collins said. “Once they began to see results, [the athletes] propelled themselves, but the first few years was a challenge.”
    That challenge for Southeast Bulloch started around six years ago as Collins, along with coaches Brandon Peterson and Jeremy Gantt, helped implement a year-round training program.
    Collins said he wanted to redefine what the athletes viewed as “strong.”
    The coaching program at SEB wanted a stronger athlete overall, expecting their players to lift at least 300 pounds in the bench press, power clinge and incline— as well as 400 pounds on squats.
    “This is my seventh year at the school. From when I got here to where we are now, it’s unbelievable. Coach Collins brought over a great weight program and it’s truly amazing. If the kids buy in and do the workouts we’re asking them to do, the kids get really strong,” Gantt, also a track and field coach for Southeast Bulloch, said.
    Just three years ago, the weightlifting program at Southeast Bulloch High School finished as the state runner-ups in the GACA lifting competition.
    Gantt said the players were ecstatic. Last year the team finished runner-ups by just two points to perennial weightlifting-power house Washington County, a team that had won 20 consecutive weightlifting titles. This time, the mood changed—and so did the Yellow Jackets’ expectations.
    “They were disappointed. They were mad we didn’t win,” Coach Peterson recalled. “I thought from a mindset standpoint, it was really interesting to see that progression. Our guys worked their butts off and it showed. They had a great day.”
    Lane Marsh (140 and below weight class), Tyler Zelt (151-160), Chris Cutter (161-170), Jacob Jackson (191-205) and Colby Patton (245 and above) finished in second place in the competition.
    Southeast Bulloch didn’t build their program overnight. Coach Collins said the work begins at the middle school level with lifting coach Nick Cochran.
    “It’s great seeing these boys grow up and mature in the weight room. Out of the 20 guys [competing in the state championship] 18 of them started in sixth grade,” Cochran said. “It’s very rewarding for these kids because of how hard they work. A lot of people don’t realize the time they put in. They spend their summer time lifting weights and they do a lot of things people don’t want to do.”
    So what’s next for the state championship Yellow Jackets? Defend their title.
    SEB uses their weightlifting program to strengthen players in various sports from track and field to football. The program also prevents potential injury to players by strengthening muscles.
    Coach Collins said he hopes the lifters will continue with the program and benefit from what SEB has to offer.
    “I had a friend that ran the Boston Marathon and I asked her, ‘how did she do it?’ And she said ‘one mile at a time,’” Collins said. “That made an impression on me. There’s a lot of things young people can learn about setting goals and accomplishment from the experience that they have [lifting].”