Seven wrestlers at Fred T. Foard will be trying to make history beginning today at the NCHSAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament and complete the comeback of the Tiger's wrestling program.
Among those headed to Greensboro on Thursday are Caleb Griffin, Jeremy Fredell, Jacob Harper, Hayden Albert, Dillon Johnson, Zack Edwards and Cole Schanilec.
Each will have a chance to become the first-ever state wrestling champion in Fred T. Foard history.
The seven wrestlers are a part of what has been a tremendous turnaround at Fred T. Foard. Two seasons ago, the Tigers were 17-14 and improved to 26-7 last season.
Foard finished 29-2 this year and won the Northwestern Conference regular season and tournament titles, and 3A Western Regional title.
"Our expectations from year one are the same today as they were that day," said Foard wrestling coach Mike Carey. "We have a standard we want to meet every time we walk on to a wrestling mat. We want to be the toughest guy on the mat and give ourselves a chance to win. We feel like if we are the toughest people out there, good things will happen for us."
Two Tigers are returning to the state tournament after competing last season. Harper (41-2) and Schanilec (38-2) each competed at the tournament last season.
"I know what to expect now," Harper said. "Last year, it was my first time out there and it was a lot harder on me. Now I know what is going to be there and what lies ahead. I know what I have to do to prepare myself."
Schanilec has prepared himself for this moment the entire season.
"I am excited and ready," Schanilec said. "This is what I have been waiting for all season. You never say you will get to the state tournament, but you always hope you do. Now that I am here, it is time to shine."
Hayden Albert (39-3), who won the regional championship at 160 pounds, is one of five Tigers who are competing for the first time at the tournament. However, he has past experience at the tournament.
"I went my freshman year just to watch as a spectator," Albert said. "That definitely helps. That gave me a feel of the whole environment and was very helpful."
Schanilec has offered advice to all of the newcomers that are participating this week.
"I told them not to be afraid," Schanilec said. "They need to go out there and attack. Those guys are great wrestlers. I have no doubt they are going to finish in the top five. We have worked as hard as anyone else in the wrestling room, so we all deserve a top five finish. I have no question we can do that."
Before Mike Carey took over as head coach of the Fred T. Foard wrestling program in 2008, only seven wrestlers had qualified for the NCHSAA Tournament. Since then, nine wrestlers have had the opportunity to compete at the state level.
Carey established a new tradition, where each wrestler that earns a spot in the state tournament writes their name on the wall inside the wrestling room at Fred T. Foard.
"I feel good for the kids who made it," Carey said. "It makes me happier to see the kids write their name up there on the wall. They all get a good kick out of it. It was a big deal to these kids. They fought like crazy to get up there."
While each wrestler's goal is to become the school's first-ever state champion, Carey says his wrestlers need to be focused on finishing strong even if they were to lose in the opening rounds.
"You worry about the kid that goes into the consolation rounds," Carey said. "Kids are so focused on becoming a state champion that they hang it up if they lose their first match. You have to make sure they don't do that and fight for third place. It is very prestigious in its own right."
Schanilec says he and the other seniors are prepared for the tournament on Friday and Saturday and they are going to hold nothing back for a chance at glory.
"This is the last hoorah for the seniors," Schanilec said. "This is our last shot to become a legend around here. It is a big chance to make a name for yourself and leave a legacy that will last a long time."