As the athletic calendar flips to the winter season, Michael Cleek is dealing with the annual task of transitioning from the gridiron to the mat.
The Carrollton High School head wrestling coach is excited about the potential of his 2017-18 squad, but it is obviously far from a finished product at this point as the Trojan grapplers begin the grind of hitting their weight classes and filling out the lineup to where there aren't any holes or weak spots.
With Carrollton's football season coming to a close this past Friday, Cleek now has his full squad in the practice room outside of senior heavyweight and returning Class AAAAA state runner-up Martez Hudson, who is preparing for a GACA All-State football game.
"Other than that, we're just about at full strength. We've got everybody back. We're not on weight. We've got some key guys that are still struggling to get down to weight. Once they get there, I think our team can be really good," Cleek said. "Now, here's the thing. That's a personal choice. They have to decide if they're going to put in the work and put in the sacrifice to make us the best duals team that we can be."
The Trojans return a handful of state qualifiers and four state-placers from a year ago. Along with Hudson taking second, Brent Parivechio finished fourth and Luke Sawyer and Jake Walsingham placed sixth.
Three-time state qualifier Luke Frost and Parivechio headline a tremendous group in the lower weights with Frost (106 lbs.) and fellow senior Kevin Quintanar (113) joining the sophomore Parivechio (120) and freshman Nate Butler (126) as one of the more formidable foursomes in the state.
"If we get to where we're supposed to be weight class-wise, those four guys are going to be phenomenal for us this year, I really believe. I'm looking forward to coaching them," Cleek said.
Parivechio, the reigning Times-Georgian All-Area Newcomer of the Year, is already off to a strong start to his sophomore campaign and believes the sky is the limit this year.
"Coming off of last year and starting this year 10-0, I'm feeling good. I'm waiting until we get into some big matches and harder competition and finding where I fit and making my mark," Parivechio said.
In the middle weights, the Trojans feature strong leadership from the quartet of Sawyer, along with Grant McKinley, a three-time state qualifier, Walsingham and Kaleb Thomaston.
"Walsingham is our go-to guy, our bellcow, our leader. As he goes, so goes the team. I couldn't think of a better guy to follow," Cleek said. "McKinley, he is another one up there and he is a three-time state qualifier and I hope he places this year. Sawyer is a returning state-placer and he'll be wrestling at 132 pounds this year for us. Kaleb Thomaston isn't as young as the others, but we expect great things out of him. Those four in the middle give us a shot against just about any team in the state. I have that much faith in them."
As a senior leader, Walsingham wants to set the tone every day in the practice room and then show out when it comes to the weekend bouts.
"I feel like my role on the team is just to lead by example. I'm not so much of a vocal leader as I am just by leading by doing what I'm supposed to do and showing the other kids that if you do what you're supposed to do that they can be good wrestlers," Walsingham said.
Outside of Hudson, there is a youth movement among the upper weights, where the Trojans will lean on Chase Sippola, Brock Bibbee and Bryce Reese to fill the gaps.
Carrollton will get to compete in front of its home crowd for the first time on Saturday when it serves host to the Trojan Wars, a 12-team event that features some of the premier programs from Georgia and Alabama hitting the mats at the East Carrollton Recreation Complex with a 9 a.m. start.
"We'll be running six mats and anybody who wants to see what high school wrestling is really about, we'd love to have them out there," Cleek said. "I'm really thankful for our sponsors, The Squire Shop, Barnes Store and Sheriff (Terry) Langley was really kind to us with a donation. It's going to be a great day of wrestling. It is wall-to-wall wrestling. It is literally the closest thing, other than going to McCallie (Invitational), of what a state tournament looks like."
In his fourth and final season donning the Black and Gold singlet, Frost is looking forward to Saturday's signature showcase.
"I'm definitely excited to go to East Carroll and get to wrestle here in town. My family is going to be there, so that will be a plus. We're really looking forward to seeing the competition we've got coming," Frost said. "With our conditioning, we're kind of getting there, but we're not quite to the point that I would like to be with me personally and us as a team. But we're getting there and I'm excited to see what these guys have got in the tank."
As far as an overall season outlook, the Trojans are shooting to climb the ladder in Area 7-AAAAA and Class AAAAA, and that starts with knocking off Cass and Woodland, Cartersville in a loaded area to reach the Class AAAAA State Duals.
"This year we definitely want to come back and make a statement that, hey, we're Carrollton and you may underestimate us, but we're coming for you this year," Frost said.