North Forsyth wrestling likes to say the goals it goes into every season with are not so much put in place as they are passed down. When big brother – or brothers, in the case of senior Shane Cross – wrestled for Raiders coach Travis Jarrard, when dad tussled on the mats back in his day, when little brothers are waiting in the wings, a standard hovers around the program, according to North.
And the first goal is always the same.
"Win our back yard," Cross said, "which is county, then region and then state. [County] is just the first step in that process."
North enters tomorrow’s Forsyth County Duals at West Forsyth with both its reputation at stake and history to uphold.
No county team has won more county titles than the Raiders, who have claimed nine since the 2000-01 season, including the past three.
No team enters the tournament with a bigger target than North, whose resume includes an 18-2 duals record and victories against marquee programs like Alexander, Gilmer, Ola and Woodland-Cartersville and whose roster features six returning state qualifiers.
"On paper, we’re the favorites," Jarrard said. "I don’t think there’s any denying that."
The Raiders enter the county duals buoyed by their impressive start to the season, a nice rebound from North’s disappointing finishes in both the state duals tournament (the Raiders finished seventh) and the state traditional tournament (tied for 11th with area rival Chattahoochee, who is coached by Jarrard’s college roommate) last season.
Though the Raiders’ season hasn’t been without challenges. A few wrestlers have struggled to cut weight. Senior Luke Slaton, the team’s lone returning state placer, just re-joined the team this past week after football season. Chad Warner, a senior and returning state qualifier at 152 pounds, hasn’t wrestled since the first week of the season as he overcomes an injury.
And yet, North has found a way to plug its holes in the lineup, to compete with heavyweight programs throughout Georgia and thrust itself into the conversation of state title contenders in Class AAAAAA.
"Our starting duals lineup isn’t where we want it to be for the big stuff," Jarrard said. "We’re not there yet. So for us to be where we are record-wise and with our resume is really good. I’m very happy about that."
"It’s what we were hoping for this year," Cross said. "We put in a lot of hard work over the summer and we’ve been working for it the last four years."
Cross says this as a senior, who along with senior starters Ara Johnson, Jake Nash, Austin Thornton, Slaton and Warner have never lost a county duals championship.
It’s a group that grew up together, came through Little Mill and North Forsyth middle schools together, caught the wrestling bug together and was thrust into the North wrestling fraternity together. They were the group in the midst of last year’s expedited rebuilding season after North graduated seven seniors. Even then, North managed to win the county title convincingly, defeating all four opponents by at least 23 points.
The county duals are "always a big deal to us because it’s people in our county," Thornton said. "It’s a chance to show who we are. We’ve been here before. We’ve set standards before, and we’ve been here awhile."
"We’ve stuck together," Cross said. "I feel like a lot of teams don’t have that, especially in wrestling."
Despite its favored position, Jarrard still worries. He claims Lambert poses a difficult match-up for the Raiders, that South Forsyth has made marked progress since Danny Sinnott took over, that West has a history of "tough, blue-collar type" wrestlers similar to North, that Central is in good hands now with first-year coach Jeremiah Walker, who wrestled at North under Jarrard.
"I think if we wrestle to our capabilities, I think we should win. I think it’s there for us to win. I really do," Jarrard said. "But I’m also not going to make the mistake of overlooking anybody."