By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Last week, South Effingham's Ashton Anderson went to the beach with some friends. He also spent some time fishing.
Finally, a week off.
The Mustangs' rising senior has had a busy summer mixing high-level wrestling competition with the daily grind of preseason football. Anderson reigns as the defending Class 6A heavyweight state champion in wrestling and he's a dependable offensive lineman for a wing-T, run-oriented football attack.
"Doing both keeps you in shape," Anderson said. "At Camden (where SEHS worked out at Camden County's padded football camp on June 27-28), it was hot, probably 110 on the turf. Everyone was gassed, but I think wrestling gave me a little edge."
Sometimes that little edge is all the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder needs. He capped off his junior wrestling season with a 4-3 overtime victory over Woodward Academy's Jaylin Tate to become only the fourth state champion in school history.
Only a few months earlier, Anderson was a starter on SEHS' improved football team. The Mustangs improved their rushing attack from 153 yards a game in 2021 to 197 yards a game in 2022.
And the win total doubled from two to four.
New coach Loren Purvis says Anderson again will be a key cog in the running game at guard and tackle.
"He's athletic and moves around well," Purvis said. "Any time you have a state champion wrestler, you know what you're going to get out of him. He's going to be tough. He's going to be a little nasty – things that make for a good wing-T offensive lineman.
"Wrestlers, I love them just because of the toughness they bring. They're not going to back down. Football is a tough sport. It's a violent sport and some kids don't like that violence. And when they get hit, they wilt. But wrestlers never wilt. They've been going one-on-one on the mats all their lives."
Purvis wasn't too worried about Anderson missing some time at the start of preseason workouts. Anderson made the Georgia state team to qualify for nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"It was a big eye-opener. It humbled me," Anderson said about Nationals. "I thought I was a really good wrestler and then I went up there. I fought hard but I got whupped. I went 8-8. I haven't lost that many matches since freshman year."
Anderson also went to a camp at Newberry College with SEHS and registered a 12-0 record to help the team place second. In the finals, he pinned the South Carolina state champion in the second round.
"Ashton is really undersized for both football and wrestling but he makes up for it by being a competitor," said Christopher Bringer, the Mustangs wrestling coach who also coaches the linebackers in football season. "He's come a long way. On the football field, I'm just amazed at his energy. He comes in every morning and he's motivated and excited. I think being a state champion and being a guy they're going to rely on a lot in football are motivating him. It's great to see that developmental change as a person."
As a team, the Mustangs gained a lot of momentum by going undefeated and winning the Newberry camp last summer and in the winter, SEHS won a state dual wrestling championship.
Maybe placing second at Newberry will give the returnees a motivating boost.
"We could have done better but we gave up some pins we shouldn't have after some (un)lucky throws," Anderson said.
Football now takes precedence with only a month before the Mustangs' season opener with Vidalia on Aug. 18.
SEHS struggled with top competition at the Camden County padded camp.
But Anderson left optimistic.
"Our O-line has gotten better over the years and we're finally getting the intensity that's needed," he said. "We're getting push off the ball. We're learning our plays, learning the steps to go. Everything is finally coming together."