It had been 14 years since Lakewood High School last had a wrestling team when Josh Williams moved from Sumter to Lakewood with an aim of reviving the dormant program.
Everything was going smoothly heading into the 2018 school year. Williams had …
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Everything was going smoothly heading into the 2018 school year. Williams had recruited six high school football players to come out for the team, and had 25 kids between the ages of 4 and 14 showing up to Lakewood's wrestling camp every Thursday.
That lasted until the Friday before the start of the school year started when Lakewood was told it wouldn't be able to have a wrestling team.
Williams, who also coaches on the football team, had to quickly call an audible. Instead of sitting out a year -- something he couldn't bring himself to do -- he chose to help out the Dutch Fork wrestling program while working to get Lakewood wrestling approved behind the scenes.
Every day, Williams drove the 90 minutes to Dutch Fork in Irmo for wrestling practice, and then the 90 minutes back to Sumter. Finally, in August of this year, the district gave Lakewood the green light for wrestling and Williams went to work fielding a team.
First, he went to the football team, where he knew he could grab players interested in both learning a new sport and improving their football skills during the offseason.
"It's easy for me to get football players because I coach football," said Williams. "But with wrestling not being here at Lakewood for the last 15 years, plus telling everyone there's a wrestling program coming and then not having one for a whole year, it kinda set us back a little bit."
When the season started, Lakewood had 16 wrestlers signed up. That's enough to field a team, but not nearly enough to thrive.
Predictably, two students who hadn't quite realized what they were getting themselves into quit early in the training. Then, their 220-pounder, Landon Geddings, broke his hand during warmups of his first tournament. Shortly thereafter their 182-pounder suffered a shoulder injury.
Now the Gators are wrestling a bit short-handed, but that hasn't stopped them from finding success early on. Lakewood already has victories over Colleton Prep (60-12), Eau Claire (42-36), Lake City (36-30), and Cross (48-36).
"I'm completely impressed," said Willaims. "We're on track for everything we want to accomplish. I tell them all the time; wins and losses in December do not matter. The only thing that matters is getting better and everybody is getting way better. They're good at the basics, and that's all we care about right now. If we can get good at that and perfect it, then by January when it actually counts we'll be perfect."
Senior Stanley Boatright has been the star in the 285-pound weight class. Boatright is off to a 15-7 start, and several of his losses have come against some of the best wrestlers in the state.
"Stanley has placed fifth in every tournament we've been in, and he's wrestled some really good competition," said Williams.
That good competition isn't an accident. Williams wants to push his grapplers so they actually know what good wrestling looks like.
"We don't have anybody in the room that's wrestled before," said Williams. "So, with wrestling, you either have to rely on transfers or you get a ton of coaches in the room and you wrestle. In wrestling, you have to actually do it to get better. We've been trying to get as much good competition as possible and getting them as much good experience as possible."
Half of Lakewood's wrestling is team is made up of football players. Williams hopes the wrestling program can also translate to success on the football field.
"To me, wrestling makes better football players. It puts you in much better shape, it works on your hips, your level changes and tackling in general. It helps with perseverance, heart, being smarter and just knowing where to put your body and learning how to move better."
The season has just began, but Williams has high hopes for his team this year.
"I see us trying to compete for second or third place in our region (IV-4A), which I think is very possible. I'm not worried about winning any playoff duals with only eight (wrestlers in weight) classes right now, but in February I hope to see each of them make a decent run at lower state, if not actually get a couple of state qualifiers."
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