The last thing Jereme Fountain wants to see in his practice room is complacency.
So now that the Central High School head wrestling coach has the foundation to his program built and expectations are understood, he's looking to lift the Lions to new heights in 2017-18.
So far, his grapplers are buying into that concept and challenge.
"To be where we are, I'm pleased. They've responded very well to the challenges that we've faced so far. We certainly haven't dominated anything, but we've wrestled everything pretty tough," Fountain said. "I'm proud of the guys. The challenge I issued them is to be giant-slayers. They're stepping up to do that. They're answering the call to progress from one year to the next to be more and to be better than we were last year."
Central has already hit the mats against some premier programs early in the season, competing in the Alexander Duals, a quad match at Woodward Academy, as well as hosting the J.C. Ferrell Duals and most recently turning in a third-place finish at the Mount Zion Screamin' Eagle this past Friday at Bremen High School.
The Lions also got in some work at Heard County on Wednesday evening to prep for this weekend's CRWA Invitational that they'll host on Friday and Saturday.
The 17-team event begins with a 5 p.m. start Friday, which will be varsity-only wrestling, and it will pick back up on Saturday at 9 a.m. with a mix of JV and varsity action.
"They'll be some very tough competition. You never know where everybody is going to wrestle and what everybody is going to look like. What we expect is the same thing. We expect our guys to not achieve average for themselves, but to achieve more than they think they can," Fountain said.
The Lions had seven state qualifiers last season and only graduated one in star middle weight Dawson Hunt.
And while Fountain doesn't expect any particular individual to replace Hunt, he said the collective leadership from the returning guys has been an encouraging development early in the year.
"You've got to thank God that when one bellcow leaves and you get another one. You hear the same ring. You can never replace a Dawson Hunt, but then I can say the same thing for these guys who've stepped into his place," Fountain said. "Each leads in their own way. It's a good thing to be a part of when somebody steps right up and fills the shoes that were left behind. It says a lot about the family environment here."
Central is once again strong in the lower weights with returning state-placers Pierce Simmons (120 lbs.) and C.J. Shadinger (126) back in the fold, along with Zane Simmons (113) and Kyler Huff (132).
In the middle weights, returning state qualifier Heyward Stober (138) is leading the charge where there's some holes to fill from last year, while the upper weights feature a pair of returning state qualifiers in Sam Conerly (182) and J.C. Higgins, who is currently out with injury, as well as Will Hobbs (170), Nick Montalto (195), Jason Konoval (220) and Kobe Holloway (hvy.).
Conerly, Montalto and Konoval all placed second at the Screamin' Eagle, while Holloway took third.
Central is facing its fair share of quality competition through late November and the month of December to prepare for the Area 5-AAAA Duals come Jan. 6 at Cedartown.
The Lions are two years removed from their historic berth in the Class AAA State Duals in 2015-16, but fell short last year in their first year in AAAA with Troup and LaGrange securing the top two spots in the area and the Tigers going on to place fourth in the state.
Fountain said it's going to be a tall mountain to climb, but he believes this group has the potential to return to the Macon Centreplex in mid-January for the Class AAAA State Duals.
"It stung last year. There's no doubt that we have to wrestle better this year than we did last year," Fountain said. "It gutted us last year to have such a tough group of guys and really have a hard-working group of guys and you still don't make the cut. I think that's kind of been a wake-up for these guys. I believe they'll step up."
Once again, it goes back to leadership and Fountain said what ultimately stands out about this year's squad is how close it's grown together in such a short time.
"They've taken that call to unite and to wrestle as a group of brothers rather than a collection of individuals," Fountain said.