The Norwalk wrestling program is bringing back three state qualifiers, and have three other wrestlers returning with 25-plus wins.
But the Truckers are just getting started, as all three state returners and three others were still playing football less than a week ago.
“It’s obviously a first time thing for Norwalk, but hey, it’s a good problem to have,” said head coach Frank Staley, who was also an assistant on the football coaching staff.
“We had assistants here taking care of the kids who weren’t part of the football program, so we really didn’t have that big of a gap,” he added. “We had to change our schedule around a little bit, but no drawbacks so far. Things have been a little hectic this week, but we’ll be fine.”
Ethan Hernandez (49-2) placed third at the Division II state championships a year ago, while Gabe Phillips (38-9) placed sixth and Alec Maloney (43-7) also wrestled in Columbus and went 1-2.
Add in heavyweight Tche Leroux, who went 35-11 at Monroeville last winter, and those four names were dominant defenders for the football team that reached the state semifinals last week.
Staley said there is no concern about weight management as the football standouts transition to the mat.
“We don’t encourage anyone to cut weight at any point,” he said. “And with the new alpha weight testing, they give you about 10 pounds lenience. We let them wrestle with where they are at, and most of them keep it at manageable margins as it is. I’ve never asked a kid to cut weight, so I have no issue with that.”
Staley said there has been nothing different other than the later start. However, one big factor he hopes to see pay off this winter is the additions of assistant coaches Chris Phillips and Chris Estep.
Phillips needs no introductions in wrestling circles, as he is one of 29 four-time state champions at Monroeville (2008-11). Estep is from Western Reserve, where he was a three-time state qualifier and state runners-up prior to wrestling at Kent State University.
“We brought those guys in to help run a better room and help take these kids to the next level,” Staley said. “They are here for a reason. They are former state champions and winners, and they want to help these kids get to that next level.
“I think we’re good enough to be above average, but it’s time to get to that plateau where we’re ready for anyone.”
Other names to keep an eye on this winter include Ethan Phillips (25-14) and Darion Smith (26-17).
“We have a great nucleus, and we have two lightweights who aren’t really on the radar in Corbin Ott (106) and Carson Ott (120),” Staley said. “They have some circumstances and can’t wrestle until January, but if they can come back and contribute — we can really put together a formidable group.
“I don’t know that we have enough for a conference title the way that is laid out, but individually we really have some horses and some kids who have chance to be on the podium,” he added.
The Truckers were originally scheduled to compete at the Edison Invitational on Saturday, but have pulled out of the event. A dual meet at home vs. Ashland and Sandusky scheduled for Dec. 5 has been pushed back to Dec. 11 — which will now stand as the season opener.
Staley said one of his other assistant coaches, Tracy Hivnor, deserves a lot of credit for his willingness to take some of the wrestlers to various offseason events while also running things in his absence.
“All I’m really doing is driving the bus,” Staley said. “These kids will achieve what they want based off their families, and guys in the room like Coach Hivnor, Phillips and Estep pushing them.
“This will be a very interesting year for the program, and we’re excited to catch up,” he added. “I hope we have to delay every year.”