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Coach looking forward to challenge at Callaway

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Zach Cummings knows what it’s like to win big on the wrestling mat.

During his time at Fultondale High School in Alabama, Cummings won two individual state championships, and he also had a second-place finish at state.

Now, Cummings is trying to instill the skills that helped him become a state champion into the wrestlers at Callaway High.

Cummings, who wrestled at Minot State University in North Dakota from 2013 to 2015, is the new head wrestling coach at Callaway, and he led his team in the Dariel Daniel Grind on Saturday at Troup High.

The Cavaliers are short-handed at the moment, with many of the wrestlers unavailable since they’re still playing football, but Cummings believes its valuable for the team to compete, even if winning is challenging because of all the weight classes left unfilled.

“We wrestled five times (on Saturday). It was good,” Cummings said. “The kids need it. The kids need to be on that mat. I try to get them to wrestle as many times as possible, try to get them ready for the season.”

Cummings has replaced Jason Boatman, who was the head coach the past few seasons.

Cummings, who teaches at Callaway Middle School, began working with the wrestlers during the summer, giving him a chance to get to know the men he’d be leading.

“It’s been a good atmosphere,” Cummings said. “The kids at Callaway, they were excited about it. I told them how excited I was. When I get out there, it’s not like I just tell them stuff. Everything we do, I do it with them. They think if he’s willing to do it with me, then I’m willing to listen more. If we go for a run, I run with them. I wrestle with them. I try to teach them by my own actions as well, by doing the same thing I’m asking them to do.”

Cummings is grateful that Robbie Adams, who is also the offensive-line coach in football, has returned as an assistant coach in wrestling.

“He’s someone I can lean on,” Cummings said. “He knows the kids. He knows what they need, and outside of wrestling what do they need? What type of extra support or encouragement do they need?”

Beyond teaching the Xs and Os, Cummings has worked to build a relationship with each of the wrestlers.

“It takes a lot to build that with the kids,” Cummings said. “We’re trying to make them feel comfortable where they can come tell me, I need this, or I don’t have that.”

It wasn’t that long ago Cummings was a high-school wrestler himself, and he won big.

After finishing second in the state as a sophomore, Cummings won his first state championship in 2012, giving him a chance to finish his prep career with back-to-back titles.

“My coach said congratulations you’ve won, but now you’ve got the biggest bulls-eye on your back,” Cummings said.

Despite that bulls-eye, Cummings repeated as state champion as a senior, and after high school he headed to North Dakota to join the Minot State wrestling team.

“It was a good experience, being able to travel, and wrestle, and see different parts of the country for free,” Cummings said. “We were able to go Montana, and South Dakota, and we went to Oregon, and we went to Canada and wrestled. That was a good experience, being able to go up there and pick up a lot of new things and styles. We had a lot of kids internationally on our team. We had kids from Russia, and eastern Europe, western Europe. At one point we had a kid from Africa on our team.”

Cummings like the potential of this Callaway team, particularly when football season ends and everyone is available.

Among the football players who will join the wrestling team next week is LaQuize Gilbert, who finished second at state last season.

LaDarrrious Williams, a former state placer, will also make the transition to wrestling next week.

“You’ve got those two coming up, and Jacob Miles, he didn’t wrestle last year but he’s good, and Cheeto (Lathan Patterson), he’ll be back this year,” Cummings said. “There are a lot of guys that are wanting to come out this year that have wrestled in the past. That’s the best thing with coach Adams and football. He’s able to build that connection and get those guys back.”

Among the wrestlers who have been there throughout the season is Troy Helton, and Cummings said “he’s been a good leader for a lot of the younger kids coming out. He’s trying to help us build the program. He’s a senior, and he’s been a good leader.”

Desmond Nunley has also been there every day, and Cummings has been pleased with the way he has taken some of the middle-school wrestlers under his wing.

“He’s been helping with the middle school,” Cummings said. “We’ve trying to build that middle-school program, get the numbers up. We had about 30 middle-schoolers out throughout the course of the year.”

Isaiah Shoemake, who has moved to Georgia from California, has also been a leader so far.

“He’s very impressive,” Cummings said. “He’s very knowledgeable, a hard worker. He’s willing to help everybody, all the new kids.”

When the team does reach full strength next week, the wrestlers who made the move from football to wrestling won’t have long to get into the swing of things.

Normally, there is about a month between the end of football season and the area duals, but the timeline has changed since the first football games were pushed back two weeks.

“It’s a big turnaround for a lot of them compared to what they’re used to,” Cummings said. “We’ve got about a week and a half to get ready for area duals.”