SMITHFIELD — Numbers may be limited for Neuse Charter School as it prepares to embark on the Cougars' inaugural wrestling campaign, but one thing is certain: The Cougars aren't going to run away from the opposition.
“Sometimes, we’re going to run into some horses and we’re going to learn the hard way,” said Cougars coach Jim Herlinger. “The guys are going to make all the mistakes they shouldn’t make, but as time goes on, we will start eliminating those mistakes.”
This isn't the initial program-building assignment for Hertlinger, who served as an assistant coach from 2002-2006 with David Prendergast, when West Johnston was cutting its teeth.
Because he knows what to expect, Hertlinger wasn’t making any predictions of the program's first edition, other that they “are having and going to have fun.”
Which is what Hertlinger wants – for the 11 members of the varsity squad, and the 11 that comprise the middle school team – that they learn the sport and as time goes by, embrace and love the sport.
“They are learning it is hard work,” Hertlinger said, “And they are learning what hey have to do. It's just going to take time. You have to put a lot of time in – to where they go through and get used to the lumps and bumps.”
Those lumps and bumps will come more often than not, as the Cougars have only one wrestler on the varsity team with any wrestling experience, and even his is limited. That wrestler, Chris Jenkins, is the only senior on the squad, which brought a slight smile to Hettinger’s face.
“We have five eighth-graders who will be coming up next season,” Hertlinger said. “So while I will be losing one (from the varsity), I’ll be gaining five.”
Currently, the roster consists of Jenkins, juniors Freddy Bonilla, Michael Deere, Isaiah Higgins and Duncan Ozturk, sophomores William Braswell and Nathan McKinney and freshmen Quincey Boyd, James Cuccarello, Owen Edwards and Tristan Wellons.
Hertlinger said eight of the possible 14 available weights were filled. He added potential weight gains and losses by some of the individuals could result in 11 classes being filled per meet.
Even if weights aren’t filled this season, team and individual mat victories aren't as important for the Cougars as are the personal victories.
“We’re taking everything step-by-step on individual accomplishments,” Hertlinger said. “We could start by things such as counting takedowns, reversals, near-falls and escapes. Pins and wins will be a bonus for us. By taking the little steps, we can find the things they do well and eliminate the things that are negative.”
But with time and experience, the Cougars will “find things and moves you don’t show them, and are natural to them,” he said. “That's when you say, ‘Oh, do that again!’”
Hertlinger beamed over his middle school program, which will serve a feeder to the varsity. Neuse Charter has the only middle school in Johnston County, so the Cougars will travel to adjoining counties for competition. Those trips include visits to Wilson, Holly Springs, Northern Durham and Ravenscroft.
“Many of the older guys are excited with the middle school program and the younger guys trying the sport,” Hertlinger said. “They are saying, ‘if I had been able to start in the seventh or eighth grade, where would I be now?’”
There have been a few issues from participant and parental concerns that have been cleared up, such as the uniforms, and scholastic wrestling as compared to '’ro’ wrestling and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).
Cougar wrestlers must participate in a study hall 50 minutes prior to practice and keep a grade of ‘C’ or better. Failure to do so results in the individual ineligible to compete that week.
“They come in and go right to work,” Hertlinger said. “They understand it is study hall, and it is serious business. They are still in the infant stage. Time on the mat will make the difference.”