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Boys Athlete of the Week: Lumpkin County's Greg Hilliard

Indians' wrestler dominant at Area 8-AAAA traditional meet

POSTED: February 3, 2014 9:58 p.m.

DAHLONEGA - Greg Hilliard is quick to admit his 14-0 major decision victory that earned him an area title Saturday was tougher than the final score indicates.

Despite piling up points in the 132-pound championship round of Saturday’s Area 8-AAAA traditional meet, the Lumpkin County junior left his back vulnerable for a split second, and Johnson opponent Tommy Luc almost took advantage.

“It was pretty close,” Hilliard said. “He almost put me on my back, which is never good.”

Then the instincts of a defending state champion kicked in. He regained position, continued to score points and was rewarded at the end of the day with his second area title and a first-place medal to add to his ever-growing collection.

For his efforts, Hilliard is The Times’ Boys Athlete of the Week.

“(Area traditionals) actually wasn’t that bad, but in my finals match I didn’t know (Luc) was going to be as good as he was until I got to the finals,” Hilliard said.

The first phase of Hilliard’s road toward back-to-back state titles is out of the way. Next on the checklist is state sectionals, which Hilliard will compete in Friday and Saturday at Lanier High in Sugar Hill.

After that, he’s back in a familiar spotlight of the state championship meet at Gwinnett, after winning it all in Macon in 2013.

“State is where it really matters,” Hilliard said. “Even if you don’t win sectionals, as long as you make it to state, you’re going to win if you’re the best, no matter what.”

Last year, Hilliard proved to be just that. He went 48-5 as a sophomore, grabbing the 113-pound Class AAAA title. He improved on his fourth-place finish at state when he was a 106-pound freshman sporting a 58-6 record.

Yet he still retains his humility, never undermining an opponent despite his accolades. He knows his opponents are only going to get tougher from this point forward.

“They’re definitely going to be better,” Hilliard said. “I need to win my sectionals, because the other sectional has two state champions in it. I need to win my sectionals and put myself in a better place in the state bracket.”

Should he bring home another title, he’ll join a small group of wrestlers that have won two titles in Lumpkin County’s storied wrestling program.

And with one year of wrestling left after 2014, he has an opportunity to secure a rare hat trick and win three. Only once has that been accomplished by a Lumpkin County grappler — Stan Lewis, currently an assistant principal at Johnson High, managed the feat in the early 80s.

“I don’t know if he is a favorite this year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it,” Indians coach Bruce Matthews said. “It’s going to be a dogfight, but that’s what we were saying last year, and he pulled it out.”

Hilliard, who has wrestled since third grade, had already caught Matthews’ eye long before he entered high school. He captured a championship and a runner-up finish in Team Georgia Wrestling events as a middle schooler, setting the bar high the second he took to the varsity mats.

He jumped from 113 to 138 between his sophomore and junior seasons, before settling on 132 earlier this season. His weight-loss plan would only allow him to wrestle at 126 if he filed an appeal to the GHSA.

“He’s going to adapt to wherever he’s wrestling,” Matthews said. “If you drop down a weight class they’re going to be lighter, but you have to take into consideration that you could be weaker. You have to look at yourself before you look at your competition.”

Hilliard has seemingly had no qualms about jumping three weight classes between seasons. He had to increase his strength to match his new opponents, but Matthews says his technique is what makes him such an enormous threat.

“He’s able to position himself almost all the time in a position that he can keep his hips higher,” Matthews said. “He has really good body awareness on the mat.”

The main struggle of 138? Dealing with a little more sweat.

“Because you’re a lot bigger, you actually sweat a lot more and it messes up your grip,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard trains year-round with The Wrestling Academy, a Lawrenceville-based club that has produced numerous state champions. His national tournament resume includes competing in a 256-wrestler bracket at the 2013 Super 32 tournament in Greensboro, N.C., as well as a near-miss of the podium at the Fargo USA Cadet Junior National Championship in Fargo, N.D.

Colleges are starting to pay attention. He’d prefer to wrestle for a smaller school at the D-II or D-III level, with his favorite being the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., just outside of New York.

Of course, he’s not ruling out any college that presents a scholarship offer, including larger programs.

“If they offer me a full ride, I’d definitely consider,” Hilliard said. “It would definitely be tempting.”


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