Before the start of the Area 6-AAAAAA duals Saturday morning, North Forsyth coach Travis Jarrard informed his team they would be wearing plain black singlets. No NF logo in white with purple trim. Nothing. Just black, like wrestlers in the Raiders youth program wear.
Their appearance would be incomplete, diminished, because Jarrard had decided a week and a half before Saturday that his team was not wrestling up to the program’s standard. They could have it back, Jarrard told them, if the Raiders wrestled like they were capable.
"It was sort of like a step on the throat," Raiders senior Luke Slaton said. "Sort of like taking all our mojo from us."
North proceeded to get it back, defeating Alpharetta (79-0), Lambert (56-17) and finally Chattahoochee in a come-from-behind 31-28 victory in the finals – North’s second against the Cougars this season – to claim its third straight area duals title and secure a spot in the Georgia High School Association Team Dual Wrestling Championship that begins tomorrow at the Macon Coliseum.
Jarrard had used the tactic of pulling the NF logo off the singlet before but not with this group. Jarrard said he made the decision not to punish the team but rather for motivation.
As the day unfolded, he noticed his team wrestled different, like Jarrard expected and like they will need to this weekend if they are to live up to their No. 2 seed.
"I don’t think they liked it," Jarrard said. "…I think the kids responded well."
Indeed, North’s finals match against Chattahoochee required the Raiders’ best. North trailed 28-21 with two weight classes left -- Jake Nash at 126 pounds, and Slaton at 132.
Nash pinned his opponent to pull North within 28-27, leaving Slaton the chance to clinch the area championship.
Jarrard had a quick word with Slaton before his match.
"He told me, ‘You have to win, you have to win,’" Slaton said. "Be a senior."
Slaton won a 12-0 major decision, and North won its fifth area duals championship in program history.
The title earned North a favorable draw at the state tournament. The Raiders won’t face defending champion Archer or five-time champion Collins Hill until the final. The biggest test would be against Camden County, who broke Collins Hill’s run of four straight state duals titles in 2012. That’s if North gets by Marietta, then the Grayson-Douglas County winner.
It’s a plan, at least, one North believes it is ready to execute. The Raiders’ lineup features six seniors and six juniors, many of whom will make their third Team Dual appearance.
Slaton said he remembers his first appearance as a sophomore in 2012. He walked into the Coliseum and saw all those mats and all those teams.
"I walked in there like, ‘Oh my gosh,’" Slaton said.
The nerves will still hit him, Slaton said. He is a senior, after all. He said this Team Dual appearance means more for North’s veteran group.
The only cure will be to wrestle.
"They know what it’s going to be like," Jarrard said. "It’s not going to be a shock-and-awe sort of thing. … We know what it’s about. It’s going to be more of one of those business-as-usual trips."