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John Christopher is the new head coach of the Brookings-Harbor wrestling program after former head coach Alonzo Nalls transitioned back into a volunteer coach after being elected onto the school board. This is Christopher’s first year at the helm after serving as an assistant coach for the wrestling and football programs in previous years.
The Pilot conducted an Q & A with Christopher on what he has in store for the Bruins in the upcoming season.
As the new head of the program, what kind of coaching philosophy are you looking to implement?
“I require all my students — or all my wrestlers — to follow three basic rules: Be good citizens, number one — that means in school and grades and that’s the most important thing that all three coaches expect. I expect them to show up to practice and I expect them to practice hard. That’s my only three requirements. I don’t expect anything else out of them; I don’t care about wins, I don’t care about losses. It’s being good citizens first and working as hard as they can to do the other stuff.”
Is there anything in particular that you want to emphasize this year?
“Building a program. Three years ago there were four wrestlers, last year there were eight, this year there’s 15. So improving on that. There are three of us kind of co-coaching; Lonnie Nalls who was the coach last year, he’s our volunteer coach this year, and then coach Bernard Ortiz who’s the middle school coach. All three of us go to each other’s programs: The itty bitties, the new wrestling club in town that we’re all coaching, and the middle school where we have them wrestle in the same room as the high-schoolers. We’re trying to build that whole program and really build upon that. That’s the main thing I’m emphasizing this year, to build the program, I’m not looking at going to state or anything like that.”
Why do you think the program has been the growing the way it has?
“I think it’s consistency in the program. Coach Nalls was (the head coach) last year and he’s here again this year, and building that all up again and trying to emphasize that it’s going to be the same throughout. Not only that, but I think some of the kids are already learning that we got Coach Nalls, a two time All-American, we got Coach Ortiz who has gone to nationals and he placed internationally in jiu-jitsu; these are some really confident coaches.
“Then there’s me; I don’t have a lot of wrestling experience, I wrestled in high school, I coached a little bit in middle school here a couple of times, but I’ve been coaching a number of years, the three of us together have really formulated this good cohesive coaching staff, I believe.”
Often times, how a team does during season is determined by the work they put in the offseason. Have your athletes kept up with their wrestling over summer?
“Some of the guys have; some of the guys have been working really hard. We try to stress the other sporting programs because it’s a lot easier for them to get into things like football or soccer to keep themselves athletically challenged throughout the year. We really believe in the three-sport athlete. That’s a big emphasis of ours, and as we can, get them as much as we can in the summer months and try to coordinate around all the other sport programs. It’s really big to us — we’re trying to develop a lot more cohesion with the other sport programs, so that we can filter players in and out because this is small community, and you gotta be able to do that to make these sports better and bigger here.”
Two years ago, Jacob Wellenbrock (then a freshman) surprised everyone when he qualified for state after starting out in junior varsity. Are there any kids you see potentially going to state this year?
“That’s the fun thing about wrestling — You can never know who you’re going to get or where they’re going to get in a given year. I’ve seen it myself, where a freshman or a sophomore, all of sudden they’re right there at state with everyone else; it’s totally different from every other sport. They are relying on themselves to get there, and they’re training their athleticism. We have one potential kid, Tanner Wyatt, who can possibly go to state, and the others all depends on if the stars align for them or not.”
Being that you only lost one senior to graduation last year, would you consider this year’s a team to be an experienced squad?
“There’s like four or five guys who have been wrestling before, and we still have a lot of new ones. Everybody that was on the team last year that I can think of at the moment returned, and we got more on top of that, so that’s why our numbers have increased. In fact, we got a lot more kids that have heard about it, who said, ‘That sounds like a cool thing to do,’ and decided to do it. The weird thing is that we got some juniors and seniors who showed up, and this will be their first year wrestling, but more power to them.”
You mentioned the cohesion of the coaching staff earlier. Can you elaborate on what aspects of each the wrestling program that each of you focuses on?
“Lonnie is really good in the dynamics and the actual wrestling physics; Bernard is too. (Bernard) has a younger daughter and he really likes working with that younger group. Lonnie is really good at holding the line with the students and stuff. My skill set is more towards that the kids see that I’m honest and fair about everything and that I keep the overall program running. This means all the different dynamics of that portion, the staff, the political side. I do really good on the political side, managing the team and getting us to where we need to go, and dealing with all the school stuff that needs to be done. Between the three of us, it makes a really good dynamic team. Wrestling’s about teamship, and working together that way is really what’s pulling us together.
Considering that when you’re out there wrestling on your own, just how important is teamwork in wrestling?
“If you walked into the wrestling room last year, it was totally destroyed, it was something they hated. Now it’s painted and the walls look nice and we did that as a team together. The kids and us worked together as a team, that’s what we’re trying to emphasize. Yeah, when you’re out on the mat, you might be solo, but when you’re outside of that, everybody works as a team to make everyone succeed. Some people don’t get that about wrestling. It takes that team for you to succeed.”