It didn’t take Paul Douglas long to put his stamp on the McGavock wrestling program.
In his first season after taking over for the retired Larry Coffee, Douglas has coached the Raiders to the Region 6-AAA duals championship and a berth in the Class AAA state duals tournament, which takes place this weekend at the Williamson County Ag Expo in Franklin.
McGavock is the first Metro Nashville team to make the 16-team Class AAA tourney field since Glencliff reached the 2009 tournament, and looks to become the first Metro team to win a match in the event since Antioch advanced to the 2008 consolation semifinals and finished 3-2.
“We’ve made a lot of changes in the program,” Douglas said. “These young men have worked really hard. It’s a group that’s heavy on freshmen and sophomores, so hopefully we’ll be in the mix for a while.”
After finishing second in District 12-AAA with a 40-34 loss to district champion Antioch, McGavock clinched a spot in the state duals by going to Independence for the Region 6-AAA tournament and defeating host and 11-AAA titlist Independence 39-32. In the finals, the Raiders defeated Summit 36-33 – avenging a 43-27 regular-season loss to the Spartans in the process.
“They’re tough,” veteran Antioch coach Jerome Dooley said. “Their middleweights are really tough. They’re going to be a tough team to deal with.
“I think they put in a lot of work over the offseason. They’re a lot stronger, and they’ve got some experience, got some great athletes. They worked through the summer, went to some camps.”
Douglas said summer work with programs in Union County, Ky., and Arab, Ala., helped his team.
“We’re trying to work on a different mentality in the room,” he said. “We’re evolving. We never really went to camp, but we went up to Union County the last couple of years and they’ve got a hard-nosed group of young men. We went down to Arab (pronounced A-rab) and wrestled some different folks.
“We’re trying to change the atmosphere. McGavock is known as a football/basketball school, and we’re just trying to get the culture changed. It’s been a lot of fun.”
It’s not all been fun. Just before the earlier Summit matchup, Douglas lost a couple of seniors due to disciplinary action
“We’d had a lot of change in the (wrestling) room,” he said. “We’d had to throw some kids into the fire. The kids didn’t know who was going to go where; we had some weight management issues. But we got those things straightened out. Following that first Summit match, I brought each wrestler in and spoke to them individually, came up with a plan for each of them. They got refocused and got motivated, and I think we may have gotten a little better.”
Meanwhile, the school administration has provided a boost for the program as well.
“We’ve added a locker room; we’ve never had that for the wrestlers,” Douglas said. “We’re starting remodeling on the wrestling room in March. We’re about to blow out a couple of walls, we’ll have more stands for our fans. We’re getting pull-up bars, we’ll have cardio space. We’re working on new mats. We haven’t had new mats since 1990.
“Our principal, (Robbin) Wall has really gotten on board with wrestling and is pushing for us to make these changes. He’s pushing to help us with it. The kids see that and they’re buying into the system. Our parents have gotten on board and are volunteering and helping with fundraising. We’re just a typical Metro school, trying to compete with these other schools with new facilities.”
Competing with the state’s best is the focus this weekend, and while Douglas describes his lineup as “a team full of no-name wrestlers”, he knows what effort he’ll get from seniors Darius Rutland and Mason Dobbs at 152 and 132 pounds, as well as the rest of the Raiders.
“With my luck, we’ll get Cleveland or Wilson Central or Bradley Central in the opening round,” he said. “But they have to blow the whistle and we’re going to wrestle to the best of our ability. I’d like for us to have some success, but my guys are going to fight ‘em regardless.
“They won’t back down from one match.”