Just one season removed from not having a single individual even make it out of area, the Haralson County High School wrestling team is sending three of its top talents to the state stage.
The Rebels will hit the mats of Macon today for the Class AAA portion of the GHSA Traditional Wrestling State Championships, where senior Blake Rice (126 lbs.), junior Daniel Muse (113) and freshman Jacob Wilson (106) are shooting for a historic finish in becoming the first wrestler from Haralson County to bring home a state medal.
Third-year Rebel head coach Nick White is confident all three have the potential to reach the podium, but he understands that it's not going to happen without their best effort.
"I told the group (Wednesday) that somebody is going to be the first state-placer in history because somebody is going to do it this weekend," White said. "There's no going just to show up and be there. If you're in the top eight, you win a match, you're going place.That's all of their goals."
Rice and Muse are now two-time state qualifiers after getting to Macon two years ago in the first year of the Haralson County program, but that was a different time and coming out of a much different area.
Now battle-tested and not just happy to be on the big stage, the Rebels are primed for a podium push this weekend.
"It was one of the craziest things my first time. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now in my second year going back to it, I'm taking it a lot more serious," Muse said.
Rice already put his name in the Rebel record books this month by becoming the first sectional champion in Haralson County history in last week's Class AAA West Sectional at Bremen, and now he's focused on duplicating that feat.
"It felt pretty good. I went in not big-headed, but I knew that we work harder than anybody, so I didn't really have any doubt that I wasn't going to win it," Rice said.
As one of the original members of the Rebel wrestling program, Rice takes pride in seeing how far it's come in such a short time, and he's ready to take it one step further this week.
"We've always worked hard and I think it's shown over the past three years because we're not nearly as experienced as many other teams," Rice said. "But just because how hard we work and how dedicated we are, we're climbing up there with everybody else. It means a lot to come this far."
As a first-time qualifier in his first opportunity, Wilson hopes that this is just the tip of the iceberg for not only him as an individual, but the program as a whole.
"It's really big because hopefully next year we'll have the whole team going if we just keep on working hard," Wilson said.
White wants state to become the standard for his program, not just a feel-good story every now and again. And he believes these three guys are what Haralson County wrestling is all about.
"It's good to have a freshman there to kind of set the precedent of we anticipate you as a freshman being able to come in and make the state tournament," White said. "It's good to have the two older guys there, too, to kind of give a little bit of calmness to the young guy and also say, 'Hey, look, this is the expectation level for everybody in every grade.' So it's good to have it spread out a little bit."