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Dragons look to continue strong wrestling tradition
Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond instructs his wrestlers during a recent practice. - photo by For The Times

JEFFERSON — In sports, streaks can be hard to come by.

Records are broken every season, but to put together a team that consistently wins championships is something special.

In the sports lexicon, these teams are known as dynasties, and they can be found in almost every sport and at every level. However, they are most prominent at the college and pro levels, where top-flight athletes can be recruited, drafted and paid to help build long-lasting success.

At the high school level dynasties are harder to come by.

Teams can have yearly success with good coaching staffs and a large athlete base to pull from, but for a high school program to dominate a sport year in and year out, taking titles as if they were being given away, is a rarity.

That’s perhaps the best way to describe the Jefferson High wrestling program.

Entering this season, Jefferson has won nine consecutive duals state championships and 10 consecutive traditional state titles. They have produced 53 individual state champs and 19 state runners-up during that time.

Their coach, Doug Thurmond, has been named Georgia Coach of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association five times during his career, while also being named Southeastern Coach of the Year on two occasions.

He received his most notable honor to date last year when he was inducted into the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Thurmond, who wrestled for the Dragons from 1977-80, took over for coach Jack Keen in 2001, after serving as his assistant for several years.

This time around, Jefferson looks to add another duals and state championship to their resume, as they return nine varsity wrestlers from a season ago, six of which were state champions or state runners-up.

Thurmond credits a supportive and extensive youth program that starts teaching kids the basics of wrestling as young as four years old.

“About 13 or 14 years ago, we stated a USA (wrestling) chapter and we’ve had real good participation and kids starting at an early age,” Thurmond said. “I look at this as a program, and I like to have a hand in our youth program and our middle school program, as well as our (junior varsity) and varsity teams at the high school,” he added.

Jefferson began its first full week of practice in earlier this month at Jefferson Middle School, where Thurmond and his varsity wrestlers help instruct the younger members of the program.

 “It all starts with the young kids, and we have great coaches down the line that instruct these kids and better them,” Thurmond said. “I’m thankful for them, and their hard work shows and pays off when this program succeeds when the kids get to high school.

“Most of the kids on this year’s varsity were our USA kids when they were younger.”

This year’s varsity squad includes three seniors, two of which are returning state champs. Zach Allen won the Class AA title last year in the 215-pound division, while Cason Thurmond, coach Thurmond’s son, is a three-time defending state champ, winning the 112-pound title last year. The third senior, Clay Richardson, was the state runner-up in the 125 weight class.

According to Cason Thurmond, one of the team captains, the role for the seniors on this year’s team will be to prepare the younger wrestlers, so they will be ready to continue the success of the storied program.

“The junior varsity and freshmen that are coming up are going to have to work hard and push themselves to fill in spots the best they can,” Cason Thurmond said.

Forrest Przybysz, a junior who is coming off his first state title, agrees that hard work and dedication is the key to success.

“It’s not so much about teaching (the younger wrestlers) technique, but more about teaching them work ethic,” said Przybysz, who won the title last season at 160 pounds. “That’s something that Jefferson has always been known for.”

Issac Kelly, who won the 119-pound state title last year after sitting his freshman year out due to injury, said he is looking forward to his junior season.

“I definitely want to improve my bottom work this season and not have any points scored on me in that area,” Kelly said. “I think our team can win state again, we just have to keep working hard and find the right weights for the guys we have.”

With any great program, a team can pinpoint its areas for improvement. Jefferson is no different, as many of the wrestlers, as well as coach Thurmond, said their bottom work as a team has to improve.

“We’re not known to be great on bottom and that’s something that we definitely want to improve on this year,” Przybysz said.

According to coach Thurmond, it will take time to truly see where his team stands and what areas are needed to improve to repeat as champs.

“Once we start matches will be when we’ll start evaluating and decide what to emphasize in practice,” he said.

Despite having a strong returning class, Thurmond said that he knows that it will take another complete team effort to win their 10th and 11th titles.

“We’ve got a couple guys that we’ll need to step up and fill in some spots for us,” Thurmond said. “Our guys that are going to be stepping up this year should be pretty good kids, even though they’ll be young.”

While at some high schools wrestling is just a sport to keep football players in shape for the next season, Thurmond stressed that at Jefferson, it is looked at as a top priority.

“Even with the kids that we have playing other sports, they’re always ready to get to work when they come in here (to wrestling practice).”

Jefferson has several football players who joined the team after the Dragons’ football season ended earlier this month, including Allen and Cain Finch, both returning state champs. Thurmond said he encourages his wrestlers take part in other sports. He did point out, however, that all of his athletes take their wrestling seriously and are ready to come to work when the season comes around.

 “We’re not just here going through the motions. When we’re here, we’re preparing for the end of the season, with the end of the season being state championships.”

Jefferson opens the 2010-11 season Nov. 30 in Commerce, against Commerce, Peachtree Ridge and Madison County.

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