HOWLAND - Bill Beasom has been around Howland for a long time.
He grew up in the township, graduated from Howland High School in 1991 and has been part of wrestling program in some capacity since he was in junior high. In all those years, he's not sure if he's seen a team as talented as the one he's currently coaching.
That's saying a lot considering Howland has long been one of the dominant teams in the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League, winning the league title nine out of the last 20 years, including the last two. The Tigers finished 11-0 in dual meets during the 2011-12 season and claimed the All-American Conference and the EOWL dual-meet championships. They also secured a sectional title and saw two individuals advance to the state tournament.
And yet still, even after the losses of nine seniors, Beasom can't help but see what's ahead.
"If everything comes together, we should be better than we were last year," he said. "When I look at the lineup form 106 to 285, it could be one of the best teams ever from Howland."
And no one knows this group as well as Beasom. Now in his fourth year leading the Tigers' varsity team, Beasom coached the junior high for two years prior to taking over the high school. The current seniors were in seventh grade when Beasom became head coach, so he's been with them for six years straight. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, and he understands just how much potential is on the horizon for Howland.
"The thing I like best about this team is I've coached them all the way through," he said. "So for me, to sit here and watch these kids grow up and mature and become men, it means so much. Us as a group, we've won a lot of tournaments. The kids have won five EOWL Tournaments (including junior high), this group I have right now. Even Fitch at their prime, I don't know if they ever did that, and I think we have a good chance to win another one this year. I've seen these kids do a lot of good things, and it's been a pleasure from my standpoint to watch them grow up. They all mean a lot to me. I'll never have another group like this."
The seniors will be the backbone of a rather young and promising team. Gabe Stark returns as one of the top 145-pound wrestlers in the state. He finished fifth at 138 pounds. He finished with a 40-8 record, and he's just one of several stars for Howland. Senior Alex Corncielli, 132 pounds, was 30-11 last year and missed out on qualifying for the state tournament by two points. Tyler Drass finished 28-14, Cody Davis was 26-7, Josh Grodesky 24-19, Nico Lucarelli 20-12 and Andrew Rolfe 24-14. And that's just the seniors. The sophomore and junior classes boast a wealth of talent as well. David-Brian Whisler, who finished 30-11 as a freshman last year, is ranked as high as second in the state by some prognosticators.
While the records and overall skill are impressive, Stark said the determining factor will be how the Tigers train and how the leaders guide a young team.
"It's up to all the seniors to set a good example in practice," Stark said. "If you mess around, everyone is going to mess around. We have to set the mood in the wrestling room. We have a young team, but over the past few weeks, our team's been picking the intensity up in the room. We have a shot at being really good this year even though we're really young. We just have to keep practicing hard week by week."
That type of mindset is something that's been created through years of guidance, Beasom said, and he wasn't talking about himself. Beasom gave most of the credit to the Tigers' "system," which was put in place by former coach Barry Reinhardt. Wrestling has been taught the same way at every level for a long period of time thanks to the commitment and dedication of the coaching staff, Beasom said.
"What I do is a minimal part," he said. "I just try and get them to go in the right direction. The Howland system got them here. It works. Our whole system, it's a family-type thing, and it works."
The Tigers will see just how well this season.