As a Toombs County Bulldog wrestler Bradley Benton won two state championships. As a first year head coach, at his alma mater, he doubled that output in one special night at the Toombs County Middle School Gym. Solomon McLeod, Erion Gaffney, J.D. Rogers and Eric Hester all won state championships for the first time as seniors. And underclassmen junior Jamar Smith finished second and freshman J.J. Arredondo battled back through the consolation round, after a first round 8-6 loss, and placed third. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the Double A team standings, 9.5 points out of third. Jefferson was first, Bremen second, Social Circle third, GAC fifth and Vidalia sixth.
Watch the Bulldogs win their state championships
Watch the Bulldogs win their semifinal matches
Watch the Bulldogs win their quarterfinal matches
Thanks to Salain Meadows for her video work and Bill Benton for handling the interviews
152 Pounds- Solomon McLeod was a dominant wrestler in his senior season. He finished with a 57-2 record. Solomon lost a match before Thanksgiving in a dual meet at Effingham County and another in the championship round of the Sweet Onion to J.J. Alfau, who won a Class A state championship for Turner County in the 152 pound weight class.
Solomon, who wrestlers in a style that represents a cat pouncing on his prey, rolled through state. He pinned (1st period) Jaquan Zeno, from Chattahochee, in the quarterfinal round and defeated Artero Perez, from Cook, 20-7 in the semifinals. Soloman defeated Jefferson’s Zach Boobas 11-6 in the finals.
Last year, in his first season with Bulldogs, after transfering from Vidalia, McLeod finished third. “My focus was on take downs,” McLeod said. “Just keep rebuilding and focus on the next match and keep wrestling hard. Coach Benton, (Adam) Hightower and (Robbie) Rogers worked us hard and the wrestling got us better.”
182 pounds- Erion Gaffney was motivated to win a state championship by the memories and dissapointment of not making it to the podium in what was a dominant junior season prior to going to state. Gaffney wrapped up his high school career with a 54-3 record in his senior season. Erion, who is known for pinning his opponents quickly, recorded a pin in the first round over Brooks Layson from Lovett. Then he racked up the points in the next two rounds- beating North East Macon’s Eddie Gibson 10-2 and Bremen’s Darron Boxley 20-6 in the finals.
“Last year I could have won my first state title and I folded on it and I have been working for it,” Gaffney said. Erion at first was disapointed that the event had been postponed and eventually moved from the Gwinnett Center to high school sites around the state. However, on his home turf he always has a motto. “I just refuse to lose in front of the home crowd, I just can’t do it.”
Boxley was 61-4 coming into the finals and was the favorite to win by many in the wrestling world. “Everybody was saying he was going to win. I just went out there and showed them because actions speak louder than words.”
195 Pounds- J.D. Rogers has been seeking the ultimate prize for years. As a kid’s wrestler he once won an important belt by doing well in a series of events across the state of Georgia. However, in high school his best finish at state was fourth last season. There always seemed to be somebody older and more experienced than J.D. But, not in 2013-14. Rogers, despite wrestling in the 195 pound class against competition that was usually bigger than he was, went 48-4.
Rogers opened up state with a first period pin of Dakota Wilerson from Model. In the semifinals J.D. beat Jefferson’s Deshon Lester 6-2. Rogers ended his high school career with a late third period pin of Clayton Thornbury from Murray County.
285 pounds- Eric Hester, when he wrestled aggressively, was always different than most of the other heavyweights. Most big guys just want to bump and grind for six minutes leading to low scoring matches. An aggessive Hester is athletic enough to pile up the points or win with a pin. Eric scored 24 points in three wins at sectionals. At state he pinned his first opponent (Darby Henegan from Lovett) 1:33 into the first round. The he won his next two matches by a combined score of 12-3. Hester took care of D.J. Coker, from GAC, 7-1 in the semifinals and then he defeated Vidalia’s Shakeem Lassiter 5-2 in an all Toombs County final.