When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Macon Centreplex
Cost: $10 a day; $17 for a tournament pass
North Hall's Cam Howell has worn his slightly blackened eye this week as a badge of honor.
It all happened last Saturday during the height of celebration in a pile on the wrestling mats at Oconee County after winning the Area 8-AAA championship and securing the Trojans' first state duals berth since 2002.
In the excitement of the moment, Trojans wrestlers jumped in a pile and their 220-pound wrestler was accidently punched in the left eye by a fellow teammate.
He spent all week telling friends the story.
"When it happened, I was tackled and accidently punched in the eye," Howell said. "I was on the bottom of the pile and everyone else piled on top."
The Trojans open up the state duals at noon Friday with a match against Eastside at the Macon Centreplex.
A first-round win would likely pit North Hall against Class AAA's back-to-back defending state champions, Gilmer.
North Hall coach Jay Hargis sees his program on a general upswing with three traditional state placers last season and aiming to place as a team in the duals, the team-format championships, that wrap up on Saturday in Macon.
Chestatee finished as Area runner-up and is also in Macon this weekend, opening up against Heritage-Catoosa at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Centreplex.
War Eagles coach Carey Whitlow said the best moment of taking the program to state, a first in school history, was walking into the Macon Centreplex on Thursday for practice before weigh-ins.
"The best thing was opening the doors to the Coliseum, and hearing all the kids say ‘Wow'," said Whitlow, who was coach at North Hall for its state duals team in 2002.
"All the kids couldn't believe how big the Coliseum is."
In Class AA, top-ranked Jefferson is back and looking for its 12th consecutive duals state championship. Generally regarded as one of the Dragons' most elite teams, they've already won the WRAL duals in Raleigh, N.C., Southern Duals in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and placed 10th out of 32 teams at the Clash Nationals on Dec. 31 in Rochester, Minn.
Jefferson opens the state duals in Class AA against Greater Atlanta Christian at noon Friday.
In Class A, Commerce opens up in the eight-team field in the smallest classification against Mt. Zion-Carroll at 1:45 p.m..
North Hall has turned this season into a chase to see how many banners it can win to hang in the school's gym. One is already locked down with the Area championship.
Another will be in store if the Trojans can finish top six at state.
North Hall got to state by wrestling a tough early-season duals schedule, including matches against teams ranked in all five classifications, along with a third-place finish at the Creekview tournament and fourth place at the Lambert Longhorn tournament.
"Obviously, this will be the best talent we've faced all year at state," said North Hall 138-pounder Tyler Kratzer. "But we've wrestled hard teams all season and good competition and we're trying to hang another banner."
Hargis wants this experience at state to serve as a motivation for more trips back to state in the future.
The 25-year coaching veteran knows that once his program gets a taste of competing against the best and the adrenaline rush of taking to the mat with such high stakes, they'll make it a priority to make it back to Macon every year.
Howell could tell his team had state potential when they went out and ended a four-year run of loses to White County with a convincing 30-point victory in just the second match of the season.
"I could tell then that something was different this year," Howell said. "We've got a bunch of really motivated guys on this team."
However, Hargis had an idea that this year's team was special just from the tone set during fall conditioning for those that were not already playing football or running cross country.
The Trojans' coach said that the workouts weren't easy with athletes running stadium steps at The Brickyard before school, flipping tires and doing pull-ups.
He added that football players already came ready to wrestle in excellent physical condition from that program's conditioning requirements.
"I could tell that first week we were able to add the football players back that this team had really good duals potential," Hargis said.
Now, most of all, they want to make this a fun experience.
Wrestlers aren't going to forget about the fact that this weekend is to be enjoyed and that making it to state is a reward for all the hard work to this point in the season.
"It's going to be a blast wrestling at state," Kratzer said. "In the end, you have to have fun with it."
Whitlow believes that his program doesn't have any pressure at state. If they lose, he says the perception is that they aren't supposed to win.
"This is all about giving our team the experience of wrestling at state," Whitlow said. "We got a tough draw, but we're going to go after them."
Chestatee junior Jose Reyes-Lavallee (106) currently sits at 97 career wins and has the chance to become the school's first to hit 100 victories.