By Kyle LoJacono
Zephyrhills High graduate Mike Smith was named the Bulldogs new wrestling coach on Aug. 3 and plans to bring some consistency to a program that has had three coaches in as many years.
“They want some stability here,” Mike said. “They have only had one or two dual matches at home in the last three or four years. We’ve already got a dual match scheduled for Dec. 8 at home and it’ll be exciting for the kids to get to compete at home.”
Bulldogs principal Steve Van Gorden said it was Mike’s overall personality and wrestling expertise that separated him from other potential coaches.
“I decided to hire coach Smith for his dedication to kids, his strong wrestling knowledge, his personal character and his commitment to the Zephyrhills community,” Van Gorden said.
Mike, a 1994 graduate, competed at Zephyrhills during his last three years.
He qualified for the state meet as a junior and senior while competing at 189 pounds. Mike entered states as a senior with a district and regional title and a 26-2 record, but lost to the eventual state champion by one point.
Mike, who was also on the weightlifting and football teams at Zephyrhills, was humbled by the chance to lead the program at his alma mater.
“It’s a great honor and great responsibility,” Mike said. “I want to do well for the kids. The big thing is to give the kids stability and to have a positive impact on them.”
It is the first time Mike has coached a wrestling program, but he is no novice to leading a squad.
Mike has coached the six-man team at Zephyrhills Christian Academy, where he is also the principal, since he started the program four years ago. The Warriors had a perfect 13-0 season capped off by winning the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools (FCAPPS) state championship in November.
Mike is also the pastor of Fair Haven Baptist Church in Zephyrhills. He said the coaching opportunity was “perfect” because it will not interfere with his coaching the Warriors football team or his responsibilities as a principal or with his church.
Mike’s brother Dale and Zeke Casaerz, who both attended Zephyrhills, will be his assistants. Casaerz was a state qualifier in high school and wrestled while in the Marines, where he compiled a 28-0 record.
“They were both really good wrestlers and will be a big help,” Mike said.
The start of the wrestling season is still months away, but Mike is ready to hit the gym and start working to bring home district, regional and state championships during the coming seasons.
“The kids are already pumped about the season,” Mike said. “They want us to get things going as soon as we can. I’m expecting 30-40 kids to try out. They’re excited and so am I, so I think we can do some special things.”