Staff Illustration: Brendan Sullivan/ Nicole Puckett
The Archer wrestling program is in its fourth year of existence and has had tremendous success. The Tigers success hinges on the senior class, top row: Zach Wright, Da'Quan Olbert, Orlando Nawade, Robby Kwarteng, bottom row: Hunter McCleskey, Ernest Alexander, Brandon Weber, Derek Lester and Jalen McCorvey which have no wrestling experience as freshmen, but have blossomed into a title team.
When Tom Beuglas started the Archer wrestling program, he made a promise to every freshman that came out for the team.
"We told them that if they stuck with it for four years, bought into the program, listened to us and worked hard, they could win state their senior year," the head coach said.
Of the 30 freshmen that came out for the team four years ago, only nine remain.
They will try to reap the rewards of four years of hard work this weekend.
Archer is the No. 1 seed going into Class AAAAAA dual state tournament in Macon.
"I didn't think we would come this far this fast," Archer senior Zach Wright said.
The senior class features Wright, DaQuan Olbert, Jalen McCorvey, Brandon Weber, Orlando Nawade, Robby Kwarteng, Ernest Alexander, Hunter McCleskey and Derrick Lester.
"These last four years, our senior class shows what our coaching staff can do," Alexander said. "It shows to the younger guys that if they wrestle in the spring and summer, they can be like us and win."
Prior to starting the Archer program, Beuglas was a successful coach at Parkview. He spent 16 years at the Lilburn school winning dual and traditional state titles in 2004 and 2006.
"He had a meeting with us and he showed us his rings," Wright said. "I knew he that he knew what he was talking about."
Beuglas had instant credibility with his young team, but there were a lot of bumps that first season in Class AAA.
"The first year we had to teach them everything from how to dress, what to eat, how to practice, how to lift weights, how to wrestle," Beuglas said. "It was frustrating at times, but it has been very rewarding watching them evolve into a championship-caliber team."
One senior agrees it was awkward learning a new sport he had never experienced.
"First year, it was weird because I didn't know what was going on completely," Olbert said.
Archer placed 54th at the state tournament that year. It was enough to encourage several of them to come back another year, but many quit the team.
Archer bumped up to Class AAAAA the following year and placed 11th at state. The Tigers put themselves in the title contenders watch last season by placing third at the state duals and traditional tournaments and had five state placers.
"I haven't been surprised because in the beginning coach told us if we put the work in we would be successful," Alexander said. "I think we put the work in."
As a ninth-grade football coach, Beuglas asked kids to come out for wrestling after the football season. He found a diamond in the rough in Alexander, a running back who became a state champion last season in his third year of wrestling. Of the nine seniors, seven played football, and none had any prior wrestling experience.
"I am not surprised by how successful some of the kids have been. We have some talented kids," Beuglas said. "I am surprised that we were able to take so many kids that had never wrestled before and convince them to become as dedicated to the sport as they have."
That dedication has paid off this season. The Tigers hold a 25-0 dual record, which includes a win over defending state champion Camden County. They won their second straight Gwinnett County championship and second Area 8 duals title. Of the 10 tournaments they've competed in this year, they've won nine. The only one they didn't win was a tournament in Illinois when they took third.
"We have been doing real good in duals," Wright said. "It's almost like in football. If you have a good regular season and lose in the first round, it's nothing really."
But with all the success the last four years, the senior class still hasn't reached its goal of winning a state title. They can change that this weekend.
"We are going to miss this group a lot, but hopefully they can achieve their goal of starting from scratch at a new school and winning the state title as seniors in the state's largest classification," Beuglas said. "I think that would be something we could all be really proud of."