Three individual state championships and a second-place team finish capped off the most successful season in the history of Wetumpka’s wrestling program. The Indians will have a good chance to build off that success with the talent they have returning but the team is now under new leadership as coach Anthony Byrd returns to take over the last program he was a part of.

“I’m really excited to get to come back to my home as a kid,” Byrd said. “It’s going to be exciting to take over a really good program and hopefully keep winning. I’m stepping into a really good team.”

Byrd, a Wetumpka native, wrestled for the Indians in middle school and high school before moving to Gulf Shores for his final two years of high school. Byrd graduated from Mississippi College in May and this is his first varsity coaching job.

Despite the lack of coaching experience, the expectations will stay high for the Indians entering the 2019-20 season. Mason Blackwell, Kyler Adams and Xander McWilliams won individual state titles last season and will return as juniors this winter which should help take some the pressure off Byrd.

“I don’t think it’s more pressure on me,” Byrd said. “I think the kids will take it pretty well. They seem to be very well mannered and not too cocky so I don’t think they’re scared to live up to those expectations. They’re going to be ready to work.”

While more individual titles will be on Byrd’s list of goals this season, he wants to see those experienced wrestlers step up as leaders this season. He wants to see those champions show the rest of the team what it takes to get there in the weight room and on the mats.

“A lot of the guys that were in state last year are actually going to be returning for us,” Byrd said. “I want them to start stepping up and be leaders on the team. They need to push everyone else on the team to be better so we can hopefully win a team state championship this year.”

Byrd said he wants his players to focus on hard work and sportsmanship as the culture around the program continues to grow. He has seen a lot of positive changes since he was a part of the program.

“It’s become a lot bigger since I first got into the program,” Byrd said. “There was not as many people but now they’re getting more and more attention with these wrestlers. There’s a lot more community support with all the winning over the last couple of years.”

While the returning roster has a lot of potential, Byrd and the Indians are embracing the high expectations. They want to see each individual have success on their own but the main goal is to bring home a trophy Wetumpka has never seen.

“That team championship is definitely the ultimate goal for us,” Byrd said. “Hopefully we can have kids qualify in every weight division so we can reach that goal.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.