But when the wrestling season arrived at Piedmont, coach Harley Lamey didn’t want to see that from his team.
“With most of them, I didn’t want them to think they were the champs. They hadn’t earned anything,” Lamey said. “I didn’t talk a lot about us being the defending champs. I put it in the context of ‘You’ve got a chance to do something special again, but you guys have got to work.’”
Lamey’s Bulldogs will take the mat today at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center as the Class 1A-4A defending state champions. They’ll have their work cut out for them.
The Bulldogs will weigh in this morning with eight wrestlers, which won’t be as many as their closest competitors. Despite the status as defending champs, the Bulldogs will be decided underdogs this time around. County rival Wellborn will take 10 wrestlers, while Oak Grove, another favorite, sports nine.
“It’s alright,” Piedmont’s 130-pound wrestler Randall Cannon said of being an underdog. “We can’t have anybody messing up. No mistakes. Everyone has to do what they have to do.”
The Bulldogs are taking inspiration from an unlikely place — cross-county rivals Wellborn, a team Piedmont has split titles with. The Bulldogs won the county tournament, while Wellborn took home the honors at sectionals.
In 2006, however, the Panthers won the state tournament with just six wrestlers. That set off a string of three consecutive titles for Wellborn.
“If they can do it, we can do it,” Cannon said. “It’s happened before.”
It’s a big likelihood for a Calhoun County team to bring home the hardware. A county team has won the Class 1A-4A state title eight of the past nine years and 13 of the past 17 years, a string dating back to Weaver’s first title in 1993.
“We want to repeat,” said Clay Dent, who wrestles at 171. “We’ve got to work because we didn’t have that many experience people back. I think we have what it takes. Everyone just has to show up.”
Lamey said he likes the way things stack up for his wrestlers, although it won’t be an easy thing to repeat.
“Six of them have favorable roads to the finals. The other two, it’s more treacherous,” he said. “If we get our six and get others to pull off an upset… . There are a lot of Oak Grove-Wellborn matchups. We need them to beat up on each other, knock each other off.”
The Bulldogs have gone through a definite reloading period since being dominant during the 2009 season. Lamey said that half of the wrestlers in the 14 weight classes were either new or hadn’t wrestled in two years. Six starters returned from last year’s championship squad, including Cannon, Dent, Jonathan Propes, Forrest Cannon, Eddie Alvarado and Jordan Tyree.
“We didn’t realize how new we were,” Lamey said. “Some of them took their lumps. I tried to get the schedule where it was tough so the older guys would get their competition, but also some not as tough where the newer ones could get confidence.”
The confidence is there. Now, the Bulldogs just have to do the work to earn their swagger again.