The Lions enter the 2012-13 season looking to rebuild the program and the school has hired a new coach to do so.
Matt Robison moved to Douglas County two years ago to start a church, One Community Church, which meets in the movie theatre at Arbor Mall.
Robison grew up in Kentucky where wrestling was not a very big sport, explaining that there was probably only one or two schools with a program near by. He took up wrestling when he went to college, competing at 170-pounds with Cincinnati Christian University.
After moving to the county, Robison went to Lithia Springs to interview for a job teaching Special Education. During the interview he was asked if he could coach wrestling. One thing led to another and the married father of two wound of the LSHS head grappling coach, his first every coaching gig.
“I might not be the most qualified,” Robison said about his hiring. “But I look for any opportunity to make an impact and I love the work ethics and discipline involved in wrestling.”
If anyone doubted Robison’s ability to build and run a high school program, that doubt was quickly put aside when the team was able to recruit over 40 kids from within the school to tryout for the team.
However, because of the turnover, Robison is competing with a team that has very little experience.
Lithia Springs does have two returning starters from last year, junior Justin Merriweather and senior Elbert Patterson. Merriweather is in his third year of wrestling.
“He is a technically sound guy,” said Robison. “He competes at a really high level.”
Patterson had plenty of potential last season but could not stay out of trouble off the mat last season. His 2012-13 season could have come to an end this past Wednesday when he broke his leg in a match against Alexander at the county duals. Merriweather currently wrestles at 145 and Patterson was competing at 152.
Senior Corey Rutledge also will bring experience to the team after transferring in from Perry Meridian in Indian, where he was part of a state championship squad. He competes at 138.
“He is the most talented kid on the team,” Robison said. “He has a great work ethic, and is a leader by helping the younger guys.”
As for the youth movement, eight of the starting varsity wrestlers have never competed before. However, Robison explains that there is a lot of natural athletes in the mix.
“The level of athleticism here is not what I am accustomed to,” Robson said. “I grew up with over-achievers. Here there are a lot of naturally gifted athletes.”
Leading the new guys is Joe Ross, who is coming fresh off the football field. Ross will compete at 182.
“He is a good leader and will set the tone for the younger guys,” Robison said. “He is easy to cheer for.”
Also joining the starting lineup are brothers Jordan Harris and Justin Harris, who will compete at 132 and 126 respectively. Both are freshmen.
“I have had three coaches this year come up to me and they can’t believe these two guys are freshmen,” said Robison.
Also leading the varsity squad’s youth movement are William Martin (126), and Jatavious McCrimon (120). Neither have wrestled before.
Lithia Springs will start freshmen at 113, 120, 126, 132, and 170.
As for expectations, Robison doesn’t feel like he needs to put added pressure on such a young group of kids, and by actually being able to field a full team so quickly this season, he believes the year is already a success.
“We wanted to be able to show up and not forfeit,” Robison added. “We now have a full varsity and full JV team and we want to see guys continue to compete and progress as individuals.”
“They should be able to enjoy the moment, work hard, and continue to get better,” he added.