On Feb. 16-17, the Zachary Broncos wrestling team led by coaches J.P. Pierre, Mark Moreau, Steve Thomas and Ben McHugh's performance at the LHSAA State Wrestling Championships set a school record in Division I for team points (124.5), highest team finish (8th), and most state placers (5).

Pierre's overall assessment of the team's performance at the state championships was positive. "We took some big steps in the right direction. Having five place and four others who won three matches is definitely an improvement," he said.

He noted that during the first day, too many points were left on the table. "We just could not manage to win the close matches that night. There were some bright spots, but what I preach to the boys is that they have to beat someone they are not supposed to beat."

Pierre's second-day assessment was more positive. "Wes Brady dominated and looked ready for (Perry) Ganci (Jesuit), and I saw some great things out of Caleb Jackson against Mack Brown (Brother Martin)."

Of the other day two competitors, Caleb Mickelson, Kenyon Martin, and senior Chris Hart, Pierre said, "We managed to beat wrestlers who were seeded ahead of us and even some who had beaten us in the tournament on day one. Three of the placers beat their seed, and two matched them. That is what you want at the state tournament. That is how you move up in the team standings."

The path forward for the returning Bronco wrestlers in Pierre's second year is clear. "Over the rest of this school year and over the summer, we will get bigger, stronger, faster and better. I think the older guys are figuring the process and expectations out quickly, but I need some young guys to grow up fast," he said.

The lack of depth and veteran wrestlers in the lower weight classes this year was difficult to overcome. Pierre said. "We need depth. I need guys who are impatient and competitive. I need guys who want to wrestle off the guy in front of them every week. I need guys who are relentless in the pursuit of their goals.

"I also need the starters to feel a need to perform," he said. "If they never feel like their job is threatened, they are going to continue to perform at what they think is an acceptable level instead of the level we need to get to win a state championship."

Pierre said he is looking for future champions that may not have wrestled before.

The weight classes for high school are 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, and 285.

"We need wrestlers of all sizes and athletic ability," he said. "We need those smaller guys to start viewing wrestling as an option to participate in when they are getting to high school. There are kids who need to find this sport early when they figure out that maybe other sports aren't working out for them."

There may not be a place for a 5'6" point guard on the basketball team, a 127-pound linebacker on the football team, or a place for a 106-pound catcher on the baseball team, but there may be a place on the wrestling team for competitors. "We offer more opportunities for our athletes to compete than any other sport," Pierre said. "We have 14 varsity spots based on weights in high school. We also send second teams and ninth grade teams to tournaments."

Pierre also said, "College scouts like to check off the "Wrestler" box when they are recruiting college football players."

Ray Lewis, Bo Jackson, Ronnie Lott, Roddy White and Warren Sapp were high school wrestlers. Five athletes on the field in this year's Super Bowl had a wrestling background.

Prospective wrestlers be forewarned. "They need to be open to learning and accept that this sport will not be easy early on," Pierre said. "This sport rewards effort. If you want to be great, you have to work. You will win some, will lose some, but those who stay here and put in the work will leave here with much more than what they came in with. If your genetics are keeping you on the sideline, why not try something where size and athletic ability do not determine virtually everything?"

Pierre's plan for greatness extends to younger ages. The Stallion Wrestling Academy provides an opportunity for kids between the ages of 8 and 13 to learn, compete and develop skills to excel when they get to high school.

This feeder program is critical to developing future state champions and winning team titles on the high school level. Numbers in the club are increasing. Pierre said, "As our club kids (Stallion Wrestling Academy) grow and step into the high school program, some of the wrestlers will be threatened by these youngsters who are walking in the door wanting to be state champions — and they won't want to wait. They have competed on the different levels growing up and are familiar with the expectations and technique coming in."

People interested in information on how to get involved in wrestling can contact Pierre at JeanPaul.Pierre@zacharyschools.org. Or watch the Stallions and hundreds of other wrestlers between the ages of 8 and 18 compete March 3 at Zachary High School in the 2018 Greater Baton Rouge Open.

Warren Brady covers sports for The Zachary Advocate & Plainsman. He can be contacted at zachary@theadvocate.com.