FORT BENNING, Ga. - A competition is only one part of wrestling. The behind-the-scenes work is just as important, said Larry Morgan, Columbus High School Blue Devils head coach.

When they aren't at competitions, the Blue Devils are working on technique, strength, conditioning and building endurance. They have three-hour practices four days a week, and have practice matches and drills including crunches, push-ups, running, mountain climbers and high kicks, he said.

"Six minutes doesn't sound like a long time but if you wrestle, six minutes is a very long time," Morgan said.

"You'll possibly wrestle five six-minute matches in one day and possibly 15 matches in three days - that's very strenuous on the body. You have to be able to handle it and the way to do that is build up your endurance."

Conditioning is key to wrestling, said senior Ian Walker, son of Laura and CSM Matt Walker, U.S. Army Infantry School command sergeant major. It's what will make or break a win.

"If you are not conditioned, you are done for," Ian said. "You may not think that just going out there and beating another guy down is very hard, but it is if you aren't prepared. I condition, so when it gets to the last few minutes of the period or it goes into overtime, I still have the extra distance to go so I can out power my opponent."

The practices help build muscle memory, which every wrestler should have, Morgan said.
"If you have to think about a move, you aren't ever going to be a good wrestler - it has to come naturally," said Morgan, who has coached for 40 years.

A good wrestler is one who has the mindset he is going to do whatever it takes to win, one who immerses himself in the sport, works hard in practice and improves technically, he said.

The sport itself is a mental and physical balance, Morgan said. "The most physical person is not always going to be the best wrestler. The great wrestlers in high school are strong, and good technically."

This year, about half of the wrestling team is new to the sport, he said, because most middle schools in the area don't have wrestling programs.

"We are a young team, but (the wrestlers) work really hard, get along well and have good team chemistry," he said.

They are in for some tough tournaments, and duals, a competition that involves at least three schools. They are used to evaluate what the wrestlers need to improve on before the area tournament, Morgan said.

Among the events for the 40-man team this season are the Swede Umbach Tournament in Auburn, Ala., Smiths Station, Ala., duals, Callaway duals in Hogansville, Ga., and a Fayette County tournament.

Shakur Peynado, son of CPT Shawn and Sandra Peynado, is confident his team will do well.
"I think we have a lot of potential if we keep working hard," Peynado said.
Columbus took first place, with 258 points, at the Pacelli Invitational Dec. 4-5. Based on the Pacelli tournament, Tim Reynolds, son of MAJ Mary Bridgett and Dan Reynolds, said Hardaway High School will be the biggest competition this season.

The Blue Devils were the 2006 state duals champions and are hoping to win the title this year, Morgan said.
"If we keep improving, we'll be pretty good," Morgan said.
Until then, the team will continue honing their wrestling skills.