CONYERS — The Rockdale County wrestling team under the direction of first-year head coach Alonzo Allen hasn’t missed a beat thus far to start the 2019-20 season.
Already 10-0, the Bulldogs took down No. 4 ranked Mountain View 40-29 the day before Thanksgiving with seven pins, leaving Allen with not much to complain about in the first month of the season.
“We’re there,” Allen said. “The guys are fighting. We’re not giving up easy points. We’re not backing down when somebody comes in there ready to wrestle with them and that’s a good thing. I feel like we’re ready to go.”
The Bulldogs’ preparation for the season began just two weeks into the school year. While the football team was practicing, Allen and the wrestling team could be found lifting weights or running around the track, something the first-year head coach placed a lot of stock in.
“During the season, it’s not like college where you can have days where you lift and days you wrestle,” Allen said. “In high school, you only have one practice time. So getting them in the weight room and getting their conditioning up is a big key detail.”
Allen and the Bulldogs earned their first two wins of the season on Nov. 8 against cross-town rivals Heritage and Salem before suiting up for the South Forsyth Duals on Nov. 16. The Bulldogs took down ranked North Forsyth in the first round 42-30 before going on to win the B-Pool Championship with a 5-0 record.
On the day, Rockdale junior Ya’Donnis Hardaway and senior Jovanni Butler took down ranked wrestlers.
The Bulldogs improved to 10-0 on the season with wins against Ducula, Central Gwinnett and Jonesboro before taking down Mountain View to reach 11-0.
The Bulldogs have done all of this without Ed Pollard, who joined the team late after finishing his senior football season. Pollard, the state’s runner-up in Class AAAAAAA last season, enters as the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in the state.
With Pollard tasked with getting his weight down, Allen is excited to get to work with his heavyweight in the months to follow.
“He’s a leader on the team even when he doesn’t know it,” Allen said of Pollard. “He finished second at state last year and he’s going for gold this year. I’m going to push him hard because I know how that feels to get second. It’s not fun, especially when you’re that close. This is his last year, so he only has one more go. I want him to be on the top of the podium.”
Occupying the state’s No. 1 ranking, Pollard said he isn’t playing attention to that right now.
“To me, I don’t really even notice it,” Pollard said. “Last year I wasn’t even known and came in second. This year, I’m looking at it the same way. I’m going to start at the bottom and try to get to the top.”
With Pollard’s absence, several Bulldogs have started their seasons undefeated. Junior Kaleb Walley, who wrestles at 195, has yet to lose a match this season. 138-pound Antonio Lucero, 145-pound Chris Ponce and 160-pound Jalon Bailey have also yet to lose a match this season.
After placing sixth at state last season, Walley has his sights set on a state championship as a junior.
“I’m just here to take what’s mine,” Walley said. “I want to get the state title. I felt like I could have done it last year, but I just didn’t put enough into it. I’m going all in this year.”
After graduating two of their top wrestlers from one season ago in Jha’Quan Anderson and Rodney Winston, both of whom are competing at the collegiate level this season, Allen has pointed to several Bulldogs who have taken the next step this season starting with Lucero.
“He’s been wrestling for four years and he knows what he’s doing,” Allen said of Lucero. “I’ve seen a lot of fight in him. I told him that it’s all about being mentally tough and I think he’s there. He’s the only guy that I kind of have to wrestle now. I have to take him a little bit more serious and that’s always a good thing because that means he’s getting to where I want him to be.”
While Allen is running the show this season, the former two-time state champion has given a lot of credit two his experienced coaching staff that consists of Dave Baros, his predecessor and Mike Etheridge, a longtime coach with the program.
“I’m glad that I have them back,” Allen said. “They are the reason why I won my two state titles and had the career that I had. The only thing I’m bringing is a little bit more technique and more of that college atmosphere practice. They’re just doing what they’ve been doing and I’m just helping bring that different feel to it.”
Competing in Class AAAAAAA for the final time this season, Allen is hoping to win a third straight area duals title this season and make some noise both at the team duals and traditionals in Macon.
“I want us to get Top 4 at team duals,” Allen said. “Top 4 is a good goal to set as a first-year coach. For traditionals, having as many guys on the podium as we can. Taking all 14 guys to state, if I can get eight of them on there, I’ll take that.”