Coming from a championship program, Chris Hardin wants to instill that kind of success in the Effingham County Rebel wrestling program.
Hardin, a former assistant at Class AAAA state duals and traditionals champ Stockbridge, took the Rebels wrestling squad over in late May. The Rebels are coming off back-to-back Area 3-AAAA titles, and Hardin is planning on even bigger things.
“We strive to be a state champion this year,” he said.
At Stockbridge, the climb to the top came from almost literally nothing, according to Hardin, who was an individual state winner while wrestling at Eagles Landing.
“We had one mat and no singlets, and four years later, we had a state title with 12 juniors,” he said.
There is a foundation already at ECHS, thanks to the local youth wrestling program and the recent success the Rebels have had in the prep ranks.
“The youth program has done a good job,” Hardin said. “I’ve got to give credit to Larry Insalaco.”
He also praised his predecessor, Nico Guggino, for his efforts in building the Rebels wrestling program. Guggino wanted to spend more time with his family and called Hardin.
Hardin already knew about Josh Barnhill, who was sixth in the state in the 103-pound class, and Kevin Ulmer. He discovered the Rebels were deeper than that.
“Those guys made me interested and I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Even though they graduated a boatload of seniors last year, by no means do I think this is a rebuilding year. We’ll be better this year than last year.”
Along with Barnhill and Ulmer, the Rebels will be led by Zach Gilliam and heavyweight Michael King. Hardin has been pleased with the work of freshman Wade Hall, who has been wrestling since he was 8.
“Wade Hall has surprised me, the way he has handled himself,” Hardin said.
The Rebel wrestlers got right to work under Hardin, going to tournaments in Atlanta in the summer. Barnhill, Ulmer, Gilliam and Hall went to a Super 32 tournament in Greensboro, N.C., with Hall going 4-2.
“He beat some tough kids,” Hardin said. “Those four have been going hard since May, so they’re chomping at the bit to get out there.”
The Rebels also return Desmond Washington at 189, whom Hardin believes will be key for the team this year.
The offseason work and a stepped-up schedule should get the Rebels ready for the area and state tournaments in February. It also should eliminate some of the anxiety for the Rebels, who sent 11 to the state duals last year, in going up against the metro Atlanta schools.
“They think the wrestling is better in Atlanta, that they know different stuff. But it’s no different,” Hardin said. “It’s just instilling a mindset to be the best at all times. That’s the hurdle we’re facing, to expect greatness instead of wanting to be great.”
The slate includes a trip to Hardin’s former school for its Tiger Classic, a visit to East Paulding for the Crossbone Classic and the home Rebel Invitational. Expected in for that tournament are Cobb County powers Kell and Walton, longtime state top-notch program Cass, Lowndes, Valdosta and Tift County, and respected Florida school Oviedo.
The Rebel Duals in January include Stockbridge, Union Grove and Camden. It’s all in an effort to get the Rebels ready for the state competitions.
“I don’t want them to get to state and be surprised,” Hardin said.
The Rebels open with a home meet against Glynn Academy and Greenbrier, two area foes, and will take part in the Mustang Invitational.
“We both have the same goal,” Hardin said of his counterparts at South Effingham. “We want to make Effingham County powerful in the state in wrestling.”