New athletes needed to compete in ultra-tough region
By Kyle LoJacono
First-year Zephyrhills High wrestling coach Jeff Beson is not the kind of coach who shies away from a tough competition.
“All the best teams in the state are right here in our region,” Beson said. “It’s good to know your opponents. Even if you don’t wrestle them, just to be able to see them. Other than that, you want to go against the best to get better. It’s hard to grow as a wrestler if you don’t have challenges. Competition will make you better.”
The Bulldogs compete in Class 2A, District 8, and sent seven athletes to regionals and one to the state meet last year with a team of 15. Unfortunately for the east Pasco County squad, the eventual overall top three teams — Oviedo, Springstead and Lake Gibson high schools in descending order — all are in the same region as Zephyrhills.
“We’re really starting to see the improvement from the start of workouts,” Beson said. “We’ve got 27 kids on the roster. About half of the guys are new to the team and most of those kids started working earlier because they weren’t playing fall sports. They started to get a feel for it and how tough it can be to wrestle, and then the older guys started coming in from the fall sports. Having those experienced wrestlers around helped reinforce how to do things.”
One of those leaders who is now focused on wrestling is senior Duke Morrison, who played tight end and on the defensive line for the football team. Morrison has wrestled for three years and was the district champion in the 215-pounds class last season.
“There’s a different intensity with football that I don’t think these younger guys had or saw yet,” Morrison said. “In football you really get into it, so I don’t think the younger guys saw anything like that. We came in and took things a little more seriously. They see what hitting it hard can do.”
Morrison does not hold back when talking about his individual goals for his final campaign.
“I want to place in top six in states,” said Morrison. “… I’ve never been to states before. I should have been and I don’t want to go out my senior year without getting there.”
Stephen Cottrell is another senior who just finished the football season. He played both the offensive and defensive lines and competes in the heavyweight class.
“Wrestling and football are really different,” Cottrell said. “In football everything you do is for the team, but in wrestling you’re competing in your own matches. In football you can beat the guy you’re going against, but you might not win the game. In wrestling, if you’re the better one you’re probably going to win.
“You still work with the younger guys and make the whole team better,” Cottrell continued. “That’s where the team comes from. It’s different, but we still feel like a team.”
Cottrell also said his goal is to reach states this season, as did 125-pound senior Jasper Starnes.
“That’s the whole goal is get to states and from there anything can happen,” Starnes said.
The Bulldogs have seven freshmen, but one is different from the traditional novice to high school wrestling. Brian Matthews, 130 pounds, competed for two years in Colorado before moving to Zephyrhills this year.
“I think I’ve taken on a little bit of a leadership role because of that,” Matthews said. “Some of the younger guys didn’t know basic moves and sometimes it’s easier to see a teammate do something.”
Matthews is only a freshman, but his goal is the same as the Zephyrhills veterans.
“The goal is get to states,” Matthews said. “You have to aim for that.”
Beson has coached wrestling for six years, the last three at Zephyrhills, but this is his first head coaching position. Bulldogs athletic director Bruce Cimorelli has been impressed with the new man leading the squad.
“Jeff’s a very hard worker and doing a very fine job with the team,” Cimorelli said.
Beson was flattered by Cimorelli’s praise, but said any success is because of the team’s hard work.
“That’s the key for us,” Beson said. “We have to come in and work every day. If you do that every day you’re going to see improvement. I expect us to bring at least seven to regionals this year and we should have about three guys make states. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t because we have the talent and work ethic to.”
Zephyrhills last won an overall district championship in 2003 when the squad went 20-5 and finished third in the state. The Bulldogs also won district titles in 1997 and 1998.