It may have taken until mid-December for Allen Newton to get his full team into flight, but the Mount Zion High School head wrestling coach is employing a better-late-than-never approach this winter.
After all, some of the key cogs to his lineup were still contributing on the gridiron not too long ago during the Eagles' historic run to the state semifinals.
But now that transition has hit full tilt, Newton expects that same intensity and drive since that the mats are rolled out and the competition is heating up indoors.
"I tell you what, football season was a blast. I knew it was going to be some work. I didn't realize how much work," Newton said. "It's not anybody's fault and it's nothing against the kids. They were just not in wrestling shape yet."
Slowly but surely, Mount Zion is getting there.
Led by returning stalwarts Cade Barrow, Bryce Hill and Case Jiles, along with senior Que Beasley, the Eagles are focused on making some noise on the Class A landscape over the next few months, but for the past few weeks it's been a gradual process of getting everything in order — and doing so on the fly, no pun intended.
"We've got a long way to go, but once we get spread out some we'll be OK. Early on, we just had so many people in the same weight classes," Newton said. "Once we get spread out some, I think we'll be all right. I think we can surprise some people. I really do."
The Eagles have been making up for lost time over the holiday break, competing in the Chattanooga Christian Invitational, the Heard County Duals and the Dariel Daniels Duals at Troup over the past week. The busy slate continues leading up to the new year with the Marist Duals on tap for Dec. 27, followed by the Rockmart Invitational the following day and the Alexander Invitational on Dec. 30.
All of this is setting the wheels in motion for the Area 3-A Duals at Trion on the first weekend of January.
Newton doesn't want his guys settling for individual success this season, noting how the task may be tall, but it's certainly attainable to reach the Class A State Duals in Macon on Jan. 11-13.
"A lot of people have told me that, 'Oh, you guys are just going to be an individual team this year.' I don't see it. We've got a lot of young guys who we're expecting to step up and we've got some seniors that we've had some talks and they're ready to prove themselves," Newton said. "It's their year to show that they're doing more than just riding off the previous kids' coat tails. We're going to be all right."
In order to make it to Macon as a team, the Eagles will have to slay some giants, none barking louder than the host Bulldogs at area.
"I talked to their coach (early in the season) and he told me this is the best team they've ever had," Newton said of Trion. "I believe it. They're good. They're going to be tough, Gordon Lee is going to be tough. Last year we weren't supposed to beat Gordon Lee and the year before that we weren't supposed to beat Trion. So we'll see what happens. I kind of like being the underdog and flying under the radar."